Outside Wednesday’s town board meeting in Windsor, drilling advocates handed out pro-drilling stickers. About 150 people showed up and most of them put a sticker on.
The issue on that night was Resolution 24 - the town board’s May declaration of support for state, not local government, power decide whether fracking comes to New York.
The Town of Windsor passed its resolution on May 2, one of 30 or so passed by town boards mostly in the Southern Tier, says Binghamton lawyer Scott Kurkoski. He says they were meant as a way to counteract the spread of local drilling bans.
Let the DEC decide
“There’s been a movement in New York to have towns ban oil and gas drilling or pass a moratorium and many, many towns that frankly are not even in the oil and gas play have been passing these bans,” says Kurkoski.
More than 100 local bans have been passed in New York, mostly by towns to the north of the Southern Tier which sits in the heart of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale. The bans don’t represent everyone’s view, says Kurkoski.
“These towns got to the point where they said, look, we don’t want people that are opposed passing bans to speak for us,” says Kurkoski.
He says the state has undertaken a careful study of hydrofracking over the last four years and that means towns should leave fracking decisions to the state.
Still, Albany isn’t inclined to disregard local opinion entirely.
In April, Joe Martens, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said his agency would consider local wishes when it decides on drilling permits. Governor Cuomo later confirmed that.
That means, if a town has a ban, the DEC won’t issue permits there, at least not at first. And, on the other side, the state has not said how towns in favor of drilling would be identified. Right now, the resolutions in support of the DEC, like the one adopted by Windsor, are the only thing out there to serve that purpose.
A flawed process
Windsor resident Hal Smith was at Wednesday’s meeting in Windsor. He says the resolution process was flawed because of how quickly it was passed - the town never conducted a public meeting or a poll.
“This is an extraordinary issue, this is not deciding whether to pave the ball field, that’s how it was handled except this is the most important issue that we’re going to decide in our lifetimes for this community,” says Smith.
Legally, because it was a resolution, the town didn’t have to hold hearings.
Also, because it was only supporting a state agency rather than explicitly supporting gas drilling, the resolution may have became less controversial. Critic Hal Smith said some members of the town board had a conflict of interest in voting for the resolution because they would personally profit from drilling.
Town Supervisor Randy Williams, who worked for a major oil company for 32 years, is one of those boardmembers. At Wednesday’s meeting, Williams made no apologies for leasing his mineral rights to a gas company and he said the process was proper.
“I did not feel there was a conflict with this because, as was stated earlier, Resolution 24 did not say yes you can drill or no you cannot. All it said plain and simple let the DEC make up their mind and go from there,” said Williams.
According to Governor Cuomo, the DEC should make up their mind on the future of natural gas drilling in New York by the end of the summer.