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Home rule drives local fracking decisions

By: Mike Murphy//September 13, 2012

Home rule drives local fracking decisions

By: Mike Murphy//September 13, 2012//

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The town of Perinton is the latest local government to restrict hydraulic fracturing within its borders.

James Smith

The town board unanimously adopted an outright ban this week. Supervisor James Smith said at the heart of the debate is home rule and allowing a community to make decisions in its own best interests.

A group called the Citizens Alliance for a Pristine Perinton pressed town officials to act on a ban, but the town has a strong history of conserving open space and, in general, is an environmentally conscious community, Smith said.

Fracking is diametrically opposed to those goals, Smith said.

“It seemed like a logical extension to everything we’ve done in the past,” Smith said.

The Perinton law prohibits the extraction, exploration and storage of petroleum and natural gas, and also bans the acceptance of fracking waste in town. Perinton is home to the High Acres landfill.

The town did not want to become a magnet for truck traffic, Smith said.

Traffic is one of the reasons driving neighboring Penfield to study fracking further, and to explore what, if any, leap could be made from two existing quarrying operations to drilling, said Supervisor Tony LaFountain.

Tony LaFountain

Penfield may not have to answer the ultimate fracking question itself, but roads in town could be affected by the truck traffic traveling through to and from areas where the practice is allowed.

“Should our taxpayers be responsible for paying for roads impacted?” LaFountain said.

The board, which hosted a public hearing recently on a one-year moratorium and is accepting comments through the end of the day today, may act on the issue within 30 days.

Several other towns are considering fracking moratoriums or have already adopted them, including the town of Brighton and City of Rochester. Some, including the oil-and-gas industry, have questioned the need or effectiveness of such local laws.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, while touting in a series of advertisements the economic benefits drilling will bring to New Yorkers, has said municipalities should look to the industry as a way of bringing jobs to communities. Officials also have questioned the need to enact moratoriums when the threat, so far, doesn’t exist locally.

Rosemarie Stepanik, a member of the CAPP group in Perinton, argued that because of fracking’s potential impact on health, farming, water quality, traffic and other issues,  it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“I think it’s the vigilant thing to do,” Stepanik said. “I know we need jobs, but this isn’t the way you do it.”

Even as Perinton has acted, the issue of home rule as it relates to fracking continues to generate controversy.

A state moratorium is in place, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to be leaning toward allowing communities to make their own decisions in the Southern Tier. The Associated Press has reported that when a four-year DEC review is complete, Cuomo is expected to allow drilling to begin on a limited basis in those communities near the Pennsylvania border.

The Southern Tier is considered ground zero for fracking because it lies in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale region, which also encompasses parts of Pennsylvania; where drilling is operating full bore.

Monroe County, among other nearby municipalities, is in the Utica Shale region, and could see interest from gas-and-oil companies down the road. Drilling already is taking place in Ohio, although Smith does not expect that to be an issue here for some time.

“There is potential for that,” Smith said.

Smith said he is encouraged to see the governor heading in the direction of home rule when it comes to drilling.

Communities in the Southern Tier that stand to see an economic benefit ought to be able to make a decision allowing fracking, if they choose, Smith said. By the same token, they ought to be able to do as Perinton has done, and many have done that, also.

“It’s their decision,” Smith said.

There is no harm for communities in taking a look at the big picture, and determining its best course of action on this highly charged issue.

“We’ll go into this with our eyes wide open, based on fact and not emotion,” LaFountain said.

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