NY DEC Commissioner Joe Martens Says Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing Will Be Decided in Court

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, Joe Martens, visited Binghamton, NY yesterday. He met with local politicians and with the editorial board of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (PSB) to answer questions about the new drilling regulations that will allow hydraulic fracturing to begin in New York State. During his meeting with the PSB, Martens said that local government ordinances that ban gas drilling will likely have to be decided in court.

In its report, the DEC requires natural gas companies to show that any proposed sites for new gas wells are in accordance with municipal laws and ordinances. If it clearly isn’t, the DEC could refuse to grant a permit.

If a dispute arises, however, it could get dicey.

"If we can’t decide on our own, then it may become an issue just between the applicant and the local government," Martens said. "It may be that the courts will have to decide if something is consistent or not consistent (with local ordinances)."*

Some municipalities have already voted to prohibit gas drilling (the City of Buffalo). Others are right now in the process (the towns of Ithaca, Dryden and Ulysses in Tompkins County). Martens said the courts will have to decide on outright bans:

A total ban of hydrofracking could be a different legal issue. The state’s environmental conservation law gives authority to oversee the drilling industry expressly to the DEC, but Martens said a judge will likely have to interpret the law to see if an outright local ban is permissible.

"I think it can be banned in places (within a town)," Martens said. "Whether or not a town can say no everywhere, that’s ultimately something I think a court is going to have to decide."

At least a dozen local governments in New York are considering, or have considered, some type of ban.*

Martens once again expressed his newfound so-called support of hydraulic fracturing, saying:

“…we’ve concluded that high-volume hydrofracking can be undertaken safely, along with strong and aggressive regulations."*

*Elmira Star-Gazette (Jul 6, 2011) – DEC: Local hydrofracking bans could end up in court