Drillers proponents are talking big in Delaware County. Late last month, the legislature passed a resolution demanding $81 billion from the New York state to compensate landowners sitting over the Marcellus Shale, after the state banned drilling in much of the this area in the Catskills to protect the watershed that supplies New York City. But the county’s willingness or ability to back up the demand is questionable, judging from recent comments from a county official.
From a public relations perspective, the claim might seem like a good move. It’s a chance for drilling supporters to remind everybody of the wealth, or the perceptions of wealth, associated with shale gas development and the practice of hydraulic fracturing. The $81 billion figure, according to the resolution, is derived from the gross value of shale gas under the county based on projections of well density and production in the water shed calculated by the New York DEP and the state DEC.
“We put it out there, and we don’t know what to expect,” said Dean Frazier, the county’s Commissioner of Watershed Affairs. “We merely wanted to make the point that there is a lot of potential. I don’t know what, if any, legal recourse we have. We’re not there yet. I would hope we would be able to begin a discussion.”
If the intention was to wow state officials with the claim, it’s yet to register. Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the DEC, told me this week that state officials haven’t seen the request, which was written and (supposedly) copied to DEC chief Joe Martens on Feb. 22. “I better go check to see if that went out,” Frazier added after I told him of the state’s response.”
To say the resolution is a form of political posturing is stating the obvious. More importantly, it’s effectiveness as a legal tactic remains to be seen. Where would the lack of acknowledgement by state officials, of even a flat out denial, leave Delaware County? The glove has been thrown, the demand not only publicly made, but recorded in a resolution passed by the board. Will it actually lay the foundation for legal action and build credibility of the county’s case? Or will it simply suggest -- to a public that is eagerly watching the unfolding showdowns between governments -- that Delaware County is bluffing?
It’s one more example of the significance of a fight over local government’s role in an industry that is largely governed by the state.
· Last month, the New York State Supreme Court ruled in two instances that local governments had the authority to ban drilling and fracking, the controversial practice that injects millions of gallons of chemical solution through the water table to extract shale and other petroleum from rock. In two separate rulings last month, New York State Supreme County upheld local ordinances in Dryden and Middlefield that banned fracking.
· In Niagara Falls, city lawmakers were met with a standing ovation Monday after they passed a law to ban fracking, and the disposal of fracking waste within the city. They also wrote a letter supporting legislation that would prohibit fracking and wastewater treatment in New York.
· After an extended public forum and debate in Auburn, the city council lifted the ban on treating wastewater from natural gas drilling at the city's treatment plant.
As the fracking fight continues to extend from national to local fronts, the courts and the public are keeping score.