MDN reported yesterday that Gregory Sovas recently addressed local government leaders in Upstate NY to brief them on the fact that local governments cannot enact laws—zoning or otherwise—that would prohibit hydraulic fracturing or drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shale. The legal principle is that local government laws cannot supersede the state law when it comes to regulating oil and gas drilling. Mr. Sovas should know—he’s the author of the language that became the law.
MDN received a number comments on that article (see here) stating the legality of local zoning ordinances regulating oil and gas drilling is far from over. The commenters claim that New York’s law in this regard is not yet settled.
New Jersey Democrats in the state legislature are turning up the heat on Republican Gov. Chris Christie to sign a bill recently passed by both houses that would institute an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing. The NJ Senate passed the bill by a vote of 33-1, and the NJ Assembly vote was 58-11. So far, Christie has not commented on the legislation and has not indicated which way he leans.
If signed into law, NJ would have the dubious honor of being the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, a mostly moot point as there is very little shale beneath the state worth fracking for natural gas—just a tiny portion in the northwest corner.
Will he or won’t he sign it? We may have an indication of a compromise in the works.
In West Virginia, mineral rights are more complex than in other states because those rights in many (perhaps most) cases were separated from the land above it long ago due to coal mining. It is a situation that sometimes pits the rights of the surface owners of the land against the rights of those who own the mineral rights below the land. Mineral rights owners have a right to access the surface in order to extract the coal, oil or gas beneath.
But in the case of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, do mineral rights owners have the right to to set up a multi-acre well pad on the surface to extract natural gas from neighboring properties? An interesting legal question that is being played out in Marion County, WV now.