Editorial: Let locals have fracking say

The debate over hydrofracking has been going on here in New York for long enough it’s become a loaded term. Most people have made up their minds.

That’s all well and good, but when it comes to allowing or disallowing the controversial natural gas drilling here in the Empire State, Albany is still doing what it does best and spinning its wheels.

Last week, the Town of Guilderland joined a host of other municipalities that have taken matters into their own hands and passed local legislation on fracking. That includes Albany County itself, though that’s not a ban per se — it merely restricts the county itself from leasing land to a company looking to use the method.

Inaction on the state level means local rulings are becoming more commonplace. That’s why it’s heartening to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is pursuing regulations that would ban hydrofracking in the state’s most fragile natural areas (including the Catskills) and New York City’s watershed, and allow it only in communities that explicitly support it.

Here in the Capital District, hydraulic fracturing might well seem a needlessly risky proposition at best. If worst fears are realized, the chemical used in the process could potentially contaminate groundwater and lead to any number of devastating effects. (Or not.)

But again, that’s the view from here, where the economy is faring far, far better than most places thanks in no small part to an abundance of secure government jobs. In other parts of the state, including the undeniably blighted Southern Tier, where much of the state’s share of the Marcellus Shale rests, the situation is not so rosy.

For residents of Guilderland (May 2012 unemployment rate of 5.9 percent) fracking might seem like a practice that holds little local gain at enormous local risk. But for folks sitting squarely on the shale in places like Binghamton (9.1 percent), Jamestown (9.3 percent), Elmira (11 percent) or any number of tiny towns in between with similarly dismal job numbers, the promise of any jobs takes on a different tone altogether. (And let’s not forget the tendency for these figures to dramatically underrepresent actual need because they discard the underemployed and long-term jobless.)

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