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EDITORIAL: For drillers, no means no

Albany Times Union Editorial

Our opinion: The state’s highest court says municipalities can block local drilling operations. State lawmakers need to keep it that way.

In ruling that communities could ban hydrofracking within their borders, the state’s highest court rightly rebuffed the gas industry’s attempt to use state law to impose drilling on unwilling hosts.

The industry tried to use the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law to argue that banning hydrofracking in some communities could lead to wasteful operations, which state law prohibits. But the Court of Appeals said in a ruling released this week that “…nothing in the statute points to the conclusion that a municipality’s decision not to permit drilling equates to waste.”

Further, the court said that the law contains nothing that would require local land use regulations to be preempted in order to allow hydrofracking, short for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, a process used to extract underground natural gas.

Yet the ruling correctly notes that the Legislature could always change the law. In other words, the oil and gas industry could try again to get its way — through lobbying rather than litigation.

The industry hasn’t been shy about trying to buy influence. A New York Times report in November 2011 calculated that gas drillers spent $3.2 million lobbying the state in just 2010 and 2011. Given the fact that the season of political campaigns is upon us, is there any doubt where the industry’s money is going to go?

Related: NY Court upholds local frack bans

Legislators need to show the fortitude to say “no” to changing this law, and say “no thanks” to the oil and gas industry’s money, They need to stand up for the many communities that clearly don’t want this business. As the Times Union’s Brian Nearing reported, more than 80 towns in New York have used local zoning laws to enact such bans, and another 120 have adopted moratoriums.

They deserve the right to determine their own futures when it comes to a business that can so drastically alter landscapes and affect residents, financially if not physically. Forbes recently reported, citing University of Calgary and Duke University research, that properties with private drinking water wells near Marcellus Shale gas wells are losing value.

Meanwhile, the science is still out on hydrofracking’s impact. An Associated Press story in April noted that geologists in Ohio linked earthquakes in the Appalachians to hydrofracking. A June article in Scientific American reported that scientists at Duke University “detected elevated levels of methane, ethane and propane in groundwater samples near active fracking sites.” Is it any wonder New York’s Department of Health continues its study into the possible health effects of hydrofracking as the state maintains its moratorium?

New York should continue its methodical review of whether to allow hydrofracking, and the Legislature must reject any attempts by the oil and gas industry to do an end run around residents and their elected officials. And the industry should accept that there are just some places it isn’t welcome.