Here’s a textbook example of how reporters just get some industry sound bites, make up some filler, stir a bit and print it. No editor or fact checking necessary. My comments in bold:
ALBANY-A Pennsylvania court decision that dealt a blow to that state’s booming oil and gas industry this week parallels a case now before New York’s highest court.
What the court did was uphold a lower court ruling that upheld a municipality’s right to apply its land use laws to oil and gas well, which is the norm in almost every state, except where the frackers have tried to subvert it. Whether this is a “blow to that state’s booming oil and gas industry” is a matter of whether towns actually exercise that right. Some will, some won’t. Up to the people.
Pennsylvania’s state supreme court on Thursday struck down part of a law that limited cities and counties’ ability to regulate the industry. The ruling could embolden local communities and environmentalists in battles with energy companies all over Pennsylvania to ban fracking within their borders. Pennsylvania is the country’s third-highest energy-producing state. The decision is also a blow to Democratic Governor Tom Corbett who pushed for a state law that would prevent battles on the local level and allow the fracking industry to expand more easily.
“Protection of environmental values … is a quintessential local issue that must be tailored to local conditions,” Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote in the 4-2 decision. Castille also wrote that Marcellus shale drilling would produce a “detrimental effect” on the environment and likened it to coal extraction.
A similar battle has reached New York’s Court of Appeals, where the energy industry is challenging the town of Dryden’s ban on fracking within its borders. Other communities across New York have also passed their own bans, including the Delaware County town of Meredith this week. The Norse energy company, which went bankrupt and now holds 130,000 acres in gas drilling leases across the state, has argued in court that municipalities don’t have the right under state law to restrict drilling activities.
Norse Energy held 130,000 acres, before most of those leases were terminated. Most of that acreage was in Chenango County, and none of that acreage was impacted by a town ban. Norse was brought in as a Rent-a-Plaintiff to Dryden, after the original plaintiff, Anschutz, read the trial court’s ruling and declined to appeal.
In a related case also before the highest court, a farmer in Middlefield in Ostego County argued that a fracking ban was preventing her from making money from the gas wells on her land.
The “farmer” in Middlefield is a corporation that subsists on federal subsidies, not a “she”. And “she/it” has no “gas wells on her/their land.” In fact “she/it” has no lease at all, much less a lease to drill for shale gas, because there is no shale gas there. The Middlefield complaint is simply a word-for-word copy of the Dryden case. The fracking lobbyist needed a farmer as a plaintiff. Even if the farmer is a corporation – that is a “person”.
The nuances of the cases are different, said Tom West, an attorney representing Norse energy in the Dryden case. For one, environmental protections are embedded in Pennsylvania’s constitution. He said the Pennsylvania decision, which he expects to spark another years-long fight, could mean that New York becomes a better business environment for fracking, if the Court of Appeals rules against municipal bans that prevent drilling.
He said the court overstepped its bounds by declaring fracking environmentally unsound. Still, he said he expects the case to continue to get more attention, particularly from those opposed to fracking. “Everybody’s going to look at that case because there’s harsh language in the decision about natural gas development,” he said. West said he expects the Pennsylvania case will get attention from environmentalists, but won’t ultimately affect the court’s decision on the Dryden case, which he doesn’t expect to be heard until May.
There is a common thread in all of these Home Rule cases. None of the fracking lawyers have been able to justify why an industrial activity as hazardous as a shale gas wells should be exempt from local land use laws. None of them, not once in any court.
Dryden banned fracking within its borders in 2011. Earlier this week, New York City comptroller-elect Scott Stringer filed an amicus brief in the case supporting a community’s right to decide its own bans. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated he may not meet his own deadline of Election Day before making a fracking decision.