For the last 6 years, a moratorium on fracking has kept the controversial drilling practice out of New York state. Now, a recent ruling by the State Court of Appeals will allow cities that oppose fracking to ban it.

Map of Marcellus Shale

Map of the Marcellus Shale Formation courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The state moratorium on fracking was intended to give the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) time to study the effects that fracking might have on nearby residents, public health, and the environment. DEC must publish a final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on the Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Regulatory Program and adopt rules for fracking within the state. The state’s new acting health commissioner, Howard Zucker, has been quoted saying that he hasn’t “had a chance to review” the DOH study.

However, some cities have already amended their zoning laws to prevent fracking in case the state eventually lifts the moratorium. Dryden and Middlefield both amended their laws in 2011, setting up courtroom battles. Energy companies had leased land in both cities before the zoning laws were amended, and one of these companies, as well as a dairy farm that had leased some of its land for gas drilling, argued that state laws supersede local zoning amendments.

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled on June 30 that municipalities could ban fracking through land use rules such as zoning ordinances. The 5-2 decision allows other New York cities concerned about fracking to pass laws banning the practice.

Banning fracking does come at a cost: cities that decide to keep the drilling method out of their communities could be missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues, and across the state citizens are almost evenly divided on whether economic benefits outweigh potential risks. That economic reality is one reason New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been waiting to make a decision regarding completely banning fracking.

However, opponents of fracking no longer have to wait for the governor. Other cities have already considered bans, and gas companies will now have to think twice before developing a strategy to drill in New York.

The moratorium already has energy companies looking at other states, and the new ruling will put a bigger damper on companies who might otherwise want to invest millions of dollars for fracking in New York. As of now, neither DEC nor DOH has set a timeline for when the results of their studies will be released.

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