Update: New York Times reports Tioga County included in plan to limit fracking

New York Times reports Tioga County included in plan to limit fracking

A natural gas "rigger" works at a site in Asylum Township, Pa., an area where hydrofracking has already taken place. (Photo by Wendy Post)

In a New York Times article published on Wednesday, it was reported that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, to include Tioga County. The article also notes that his plan would be to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology.

The plan, described by a senior official at the State Department of Environmental Conservation and others with knowledge of the administration’s strategy, according to the report, would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.

Even within that southwest New York region — primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties — drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it, and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts.

To date, Broome County is the only region mentioned in the report that has instituted such a ban on fracking. Recently, and according to a May 31, 2012 Reuter’s report, a group of upstate New York landowners filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a temporary ban on natural-gas drilling in the city of Binghamton.

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Broome County, argues that the ban will hinder economic development in the gas-rich suburbs of Binghamton, by chasing away drilling companies.

Earlier this year, according to Reuters, two trial judges upheld permanent gas-drilling bans in the Ithaca suburb of Dryden and the town of Middlefield, near Cooperstown. In those cases, which are currently under appeal, the towns argued that banning drilling fell within their rights to regulate local land use.

As for the governor’s plan, the strategy has not been made final and details could change, but it has been taking shape over several months. The New York Times continued to report that it would be contingent on hydraulic fracturing receiving final approval from state regulators, a step that is not a foregone conclusion but is widely expected later this summer.

Department of Environmental Conservation regulators last year signaled their initial support for the drilling process around the state, with exceptions for environmentally sensitive areas like New York City’s upstate watershed.

The article also reported that Cuomo’s administration is now trying to acknowledge the economic needs of the rural upstate area, while also honoring the opposition expressed in some communities, and limiting the ire of environmentalists, who worry that hydrofracking could contaminate groundwater and lead to other hazards.

The administration had initially expected to allow 75 hydrofracking permits in the first year, but according to reports it is now expected to reduce that to 50.

In New York, while more than 100 communities have passed moratoriums or bans on fracking, a few dozen in the Southern Tier and in western New York have passed resolutions in favor of the drilling process. In the Town of Owego, a petition to ban fracking signed through a group called Residents Against Fracking Tioga (RAFT), has already been presented to the town board. A decision by the board has not been made yet, but Owego Town Supervisor Donald Castellucci stated on Wednesday that they will not be approving a ban on fracking.

“We are considering both sides, and will not make a decision for awhile,” said Castellucci, “but I can tell you, and I’ve said it openly in meetings, that we will not be approving a ban.”

RAFT, a grassroots group, was formed in January, 2012 in response to the looming threat of fracking to the county and state. RAFT’s stated mission is to educate Tioga County residents about the dangers of fracking, to ensure their rights to clean air, water, food, and energy, and to protect the environment, the quality of life, and the future.

As with other smaller, local groups, RAFT continues that fracking is inherently unsafe and should not be allowed anywhere in the state. The group plans on presenting another 1,000 signatures to the board next week.