Residents of the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County, NY, could be forgiven for thinking in February 2013 that as far as keeping out the entire process of HVHF, the high volume hydraulic fracturing method of drilling for natural gas (NG) or oil - AKA fracking -- from their town was concerned, it would be smooth sailing for the near future. The year before the town board had amended its zoning ordinance to include a ban on the exploration, production or storage of natural gas and petroleum, in essence banning hydraulic fracturing. In short order the Town of Middlefield a bit further north, in Otsego County, also passed a similar ban. Lawsuits against both towns for their bans had failed. Motions by plaintiffs drilling corporation and leased landowner for re-argument had also failed. Although plaintiffs had filed appeal documents to the Appellate Division in 2012 and a date for oral argument loomed for March 21, 2013, Dryden residents went ahead and planned a series of home solar tours as part of the roll out of solar throughout the county. But so many potential barriers to rapid conversion towards sustainable renewable energy continued to pop up that people fighting fracking must surely have felt that they were in a forced game of Fracking Whack a Mole!
Communications labeled "urgent!" would intermittently fly out. For just one example, at the near end of 2012 not only was there the pressure of writing and submitting comments to the proposed NYS DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) pitiful regulations for fracking, with the help of Dr. Sandra Steingraber's Thirty Days of Fracking Regs program, the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) was discovered to have met in Albany late November 2012 to plan for the rapid and thorough expansion of natural gas service in the state including to residences/businesses already serviced with heating via electricity, presumably even if it was from solar! The initiative was introduced with a long statement repeatedly touting the "benefits of clean natural gas." The agency held a technical conference in January and set a late January deadline for comments, which had to answer 21 "questions" strongly biased in favor of such expansion.
A low number of comments led to the PSC extending the deadline for one month, then for another month, as folks scrambled to send in comments. Whack, Whack a Mole!
Buses to the protest against the KXL pipeline included activists who took the day away from their solar tour planning and from dealing with town boards in sacrifice zone counties that either had passed a "we trust the DEC" resolution or stolidly refused to do anything to protect the town. One even had gone so far as to ban during meetings any further utterance of public statements about fracking. The town supervisor had leased, become a shaleonaire millionaire and had heard enough from those against fracking. The residents had also had enough and sued, thereby bringing national attention to the town of 2400 or so residents. Whack! Whack Back!
Anti-fracking activists in New York State were keeping a close eye on Governor Cuomo, the NYS DEC, their town, and possibly their county. Some of the counties were wont to give tax breaks (PILOTs) to a pipeline company even though it was not as if they could easily take the proposed pipeline route to a different county without causing themselves a lot of needless trouble. Gov. Cuomo's guideline was that towns that did not want fracking would not get fracked, i.e. he would observe Home Rule, the basis of the Dryden and Middlefield cases.
But yet again, time to get out the mallet. The DEC had been reviewing the management plans of the state forests, including the state forests near the Town of Dryden itself including the possibility of planning for drilling for gas in the forests, with just one public hearing. Whack!
Meanwhile, media across New York State announced that Gov. Cuomo and his former brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, had been having telephone conversations about the fracking issue. Knowing the tight rein that Cuomo had been keeping on his administration, including leaks, it's beyond obvious that this information getting out to the public must have had the blessing of the governor. A controlled leak. Could anti-fracking activists breathe with relief, thinking they now had confidence that Cuomo would finally become convinced that he needed to ban fracking in the state? No, because this was a shape-shifting kind of mole.
Also obvious was the fact that the person whom he consulted and who reported the consultation sympathetically to the media, is a family member of one of the major presidential families in the U.S. It's well known that Cuomo has his sights set on 2016. So does Hillary Clinton. And, maybe, so does Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. A March 1, 2013 poll showed Christie well ahead of Cuomo. Undoubtedly, Cuomo knew of this. This is a weird kind of mole that you don't know whether to whack it or not.