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Local News

December 29, 2012

Frack feuds hit stalemate

Hog farmer William Cooke of Sloansville didn’t want federal regulators to leave Oneonta before he had a chance to tell them exactly what he thought of the proposed Constitution Pipeline — a system that would link Pennsylvania shale gas operations to existing pipelines in his home county.

“This is New York — and we will stand and we will fight,” said Cooke, one of hundreds of people who turned out at three emotionally charged public forums in the region to urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the project.

The pipeline plan, backed by several business groups and Delaware and Otsego County lawmakers, emerged in 2012 as the newest battleground pitting opponents of shale gas development against those who argue hydrofracking can be done safely and will invigorate the upstate economy.

At the end of the year, predicting whether hydraulic fracturing will be permitted by state officials remains as difficult as it was one year ago.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is again taking public comments on revised regulations that were issued Dec. 12. The comment period will end Jan. 11. What will happen after that is a matter of speculation.

While the de facto moratorium on hydrofracking in New York continues in the absence of decisive action by the state, the year was not without major developments.

Locally, supporters of home rule — allowing towns to determine whether hydrofracking should be banned or permitted within their boundaries — scored a major victory Feb. 24. On that day, acting State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio handed down an 11-page decision that kept intact the town of Middlefield’s zoning law aimed at keeping out gas drilling and other heavy industry.

The judge ruled there was “no support” for claims that the state Legislature, by enacting the Environmental Conservation Law in 1981, intended to “abrogate the constitutional and statutory authority vested in local municipalities to enact legislation affecting land use.”

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