Woodstock moves against hydrofracking

Deputy Superintendant Liam Kahn presided over the meeting. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Efforts to prohibit the natural-gas extraction method known as hydrofracking within Woodstock’s borders gained impetus on June 19, as the Town Board scheduled public hearings on separate measures that would ban the practice, one by making it a zoning violation and the other by casting it as a criminal offense.

The public hearings are to take place consecutively on July 17 at the Community Center. The first, at 7:30 p.m., will offer residents a chance to weigh in on proposed amendments to the zoning law that originated with the Woodstock Environmental Commission and were subsequently reviewed by the local and county planning boards and revised by the Town Board.

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The second hearing, scheduled for 8 p.m., concerns a “community bill of rights” measure, crafted by councilman Jay Wenk, that would criminalize hydraulic fracturing, the formal term for the commercial process of extracting natural gas from underground shale via horizontal drilling. If approved by the Town Board, the measure would become a freestanding local law — as opposed to a zoning amendment — that deemed hydrofracking a violation of citizens’ civil rights, punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.

“I believe that this is a rock-solid law that will help protect Woodstock from the forces of the state and corporations,” said Wenk. A public hearing is the final step in the process of reviewing proposed legislation before the Town Board votes on its adoption. Meanwhile, the board is considering a third measure that would prohibit the use of hydrofracking residue, called brine, for de-icing or other purposes on local roads — a practice employed on state highways by the state Department of Transportation.

Hydraulic fracturing entails the high-pressure injection of water, chemicals, and sand in order to extract natural gas from shale formations deep underground. The method, whose safety has been under extensive review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), has proved controversial. Proponents argue that hydrofracking can safely deliver a plentiful source of “clean” energy while benefiting local landowners, including many from impoverished rural areas, who sign lucrative leases with drilling companies.

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