In a preview of things to come for New York should fracking be allowed by Gov. Cuomo, an article in today’s Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin asks whether or not town board members who own land and stand to profit from leasing have a conflict of interest. The unstated answer, according to the article, is that they do.
It is the anti-drillers in New York who a) want fracking banned completely, and if that doesn’t work, b) want local municipalities to have the right to ban it. Either way they figure they’ve got their bases covered—except there are a number of municipalities where the town boards are in favor of drilling.
Even though some 100 municipalities throughout the state have voted to ban fracking (almost all of them not in the Marcellus Shale area), there are over 40 municipalities that have passed resolutions to support fracking (most of them in the Marcellus Shale area). What to do about that little problem? Ah right, let’s claim they have a conflict of interest and try to remove their constitutional authority to vote. That’ll work!
Many municipal officials in small towns within the gas-rich Marcellus Shale own land, belong to a landowner coalition or have already leased their mineral rights. While several defended their right to vote on matters regarding hydrofracking, critics say they have an undeniable conflict of interest.
"I don’t believe there’s a conflict, and I’ve given them that advice as well," said Scott Kurkoski, the Joint Landowners Coalition’s counsel.
Whether property owners should be able to vote on gas-drilling matters at the municipal level is an argument that dates back to 2008. That’s when companies first showed interest in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale after technological advances made it attainable.*
Let’s see if we have this right: If you’re a town board member and you’re against fracking, you should be allowed to vote to ban it (and courts should uphold that ban). But if you’re a board member in favor of fracking and if you own more than one square foot of land, you need to recuse yourself and not vote to support drilling because you have a “conflict of interest.” Is that how it works? It is if you live “through the looking glass” in the once-great State of New York.
*Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin (Jun 26, 2012) – Hydrofracking plan could create conflict for town boards