Local Fracking Debate Goes Hyper-Local

The heated debate on whether or not the Marcellus Shale should be opened up for natural gas extraction through hydrofracking is growing in intensity. As WNYC reported this morning, residents were furious when the town board in Sydney, NY voted to give a 50 year franchise to Leatherstocking Gas Co. Simultaneously, dozens of town boards upstate have banned the practice–or are seriously considering it–by using zoning laws.

While there seems to be a healthy amount of anti-fracking sentiment and concern over the long term losses in property values–the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY along with other businesses have issued a statement coming out against it–there are some loud voices in support of natural gas exploration. These residents claim that the towns are out of line and this is something the state decides.  One 3rd generation farmer who did lease her land to an oil company has already sued her town. And and it is quite certain that there will be more along those lines.

While the Institute for Sustainable Cities has no formal position on the fracking debate–as of yet,  I Carina Molnar, personally hold the view that the precautionary principle is likely the way to go here. So, interpret that as you like.  I also believe that the movement to restore local control over what actually happens locally is a shift in the right direction for all political strategy. But this particular situation proves the need for a larger authority to mediate and take into account the needs of one geographic place and all those who rely on something from there, water, in this case.  It is sort of the tragedy of the commons with a contemporary twist: If only we weren’t all potentially effected by the decision of Land Owner A, s/he could do whatever s/he wanted.The land itself is not the issue since A owns it. What is at stake is what happens to the public good based on what happens on A’s land. We can come up with ballpark figures as to how bad the worst case scenario would be. But the more important argument in my mind is, how much value is added by keeping that ecosystem in tact and healthy in the first place.

So, where are the wind energy advocates on this one? A quick google search shows some action on this in Pennsylvania. But I am actually curious as to what the alternatives are…More on this soon.

[image via Chemical Heritage Foundation]

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