Fracking Site at Night

Fracking site at night

Fracking continues to be a hot topic in the public eye as well as in the courts and legislatures across the country. In today’s post, we update some of our previous stories on fracking, as well as introducing some new developments to watch.

New York courts have issued several rulings recently favoring opponents of the controversial drilling technique. On June 30, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled to allow towns in New York to ban fracking, even before the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York State Department of Health (DOH), and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) finish a promised study on the effects fracking might have on nearby areas. However, that study has yet to be finished, and no timetable has been set for its release.

On July 14, New York State Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough dismissed two lawsuits seeking to force DEC to terminate its ongoing environmental impact review. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York and the trustee of the now-bankrupt Norse Energy, but Justice McDonough determined that the petitioners did not have standing to sue. The Joint Landowners Coalition is expected to appeal.

Denton, a town in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas that has already reaped millions due to drilling, has also been considering a new zoning ordinance that would ban fracking. Because the town is the first in Texas to vote on such a ban, the public hearing on July 15 was crowded not only with locals, but also with state officials and representatives of the energy industry. On July 16, the Denton City Council voted 5-2 against the proposed fracking ban. The ban will now appear on the November election ballot for residents to decide, though the matter will probably eventually move to the statehouse and/or the courts.

Speaking of Texas, on July 9, Judge Mark Greenberg entered a final judgment for the Parrs, denying Aruba Petroleum’s bid to overturn the nearly $3 million award. The Parr family argued that emissions associated with fracking operations near their home posed a nuisance, affecting their health, ruining their drinking water, and decreasing their property value. Greenfield Advisors was an expert for the legal team representing the Parr family. You can read more about the case here. Aruba is expected to appeal.

While fracking proponents face a tough job finding a foothold in some parts of the country, North Carolina is opening its arms for gas and oil companies. On June 4, Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill ending the state’s 2012 moratorium on fracking and allowing fracking permits to be issued two months after state regulations are finalized. It is likely that sometime in 2015, companies will be able to begin fracking operations in the Tarheel State, which the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated contains 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The North Carolina bill is in stark contrast to the New York ruling that lets towns decide their own fate. Gas companies must invest millions in a location to set up the infrastructure for fracking. The threat of being banned in New York could keep companies away and instead send them south where state governments seem more welcoming.

More battles over fracking are sure to come. While the U.S. remains one of the world’s leading producers of oil and natural gas, questions remain regarding whether this pace of production is sustainable. Some analysts have even suggested that fracking has created a shale gas bubble that will eventually burst. While fracking has been a boon to gas companies, its continued success will depend in part on governments and residents continuing to support the drilling.