Woodstock town board asks New York State to criminalize fracking

Not content to ban "fracking" for natural gas within town borders, Woodstock's town board has voted to petition New York State to make hydraulic fracturing a criminal offense.

According to an account in the Daily Freeman, the Woodstock town board voted to adopt the resolution in support of statewide criminalization at their Tuesday meeting, with three dozen audience members in support. The Woodstock board had previously adopted a ban on gas drilling, modeled after similar bans in other New York State towns, in August of 2012.

While the mainstream focus of the anti-fracking movement so far has been on pressuring the state to ban hydrofracking, or not to adopt regulations that would permit it, a movement to criminalize the technique has sprung up among the more uncompromising groups in the loose coalition of citizen activists that want to keep the gas drilling technique out of New York State.

In 2011, a proposed law to criminalize hydrofracking was drafted by a group called the Sovereign People's Action Network (SPAN), an Ulster and Greene County-based anti-fracking group founded by the late Richard Grossman, a longtime anti-corporate activist. The draft of "New York Public Law 1" calls for minimum five-year prison sentences and fines of at least $1 million for anyone convicted of the crime of fracking, which is defined as follows:

A human person, a legal-fiction corporation or other entity is guilty of the crime of fracking if he, she or it

§4a. spends money or arrays technical equipment to locate, study or extract oil, gas or water through fracking anywhere in New York State.

§4b. imports fracking-related materials, including fracking wastes, into the State.

§4c. withdraws water from New York State surface water or groundwater for use with fracking in New York State, or for use with fracking in any other state, territory or country.

§4d. owns, possesses or transports fracking paraphernalia anywhere in New York State.

§4e. advertises, markets or disseminates information to the public or to public officials that promotes fracking by print, electronic or oral means, or engages or pays others to do so.

The legislation is also supported by Frackbusters NY, another organization Grossman helped to found. In a ten-point manifesto advocating for the criminalization of fracking, Frackbusters compares the drilling technique to the worst violent crimes:

Those responsible for fracking must face punishment commensurate with their crimes. Fracking kills. Fracking must become a crime. Crimes must have consequences that correspond to the harm they cause, just like homicide, rape and child molestation.

In the resolution they adopted, the Woodstock town board explicitly urges New York State to adopt "New York Public Law 1," the draft law supported by SPAN and Frackbusters.

The full text of Woodstock's resolution follows:

A Resolution in Support of a Law to Criminalize the Technology of Hydraulic Fracturing and All Activities Related to It

This Resolution in support of NEW YORK PUBLIC LAW 1, a law to criminalize hydraulic fracturing and all related activities, is submitted for public discussion and official endorsement in the towns and villages, cities and counties throughout New York State.

One basis for this act of criminalization rests in Chapter 40, Title A, of the NYS Penal Code, which states: “the general provisions of this chapter are:

· To proscribe (make illegal) conduct which unjustifiably and inexcusably causes or threatens substantial harm to individual or public interests.

· To give fair warning of the nature of the conduct proscribed and of the sentences authorized upon conviction.

· To insure the public safety by preventing the commission of offenses through the deterrent influence of the sentences authorized, the rehabilitation of those convicted, and their confinement when required in the public interest.”

Whereas, to prohibit the industrial technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking” and all activities that surround and support such technology; and

Whereas, hydraulic fracturing is a shale gas and oil extraction procedure designed and perpetrated by business corporation directors exercising rights, powers and decision-making authority never granted to corporate entities by the People; and

Whereas, the rights of the People, especially with regard to their health and safety, are supreme, and their rightful decision-making authority must take precedence over the privileging of corporations by federal and state legislators, executives and judges; and

Whereas, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of mineral resources is mandated “to authorize and to provide for the operation and development of oil and gas properties in such manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be had,” and, therefore is not mandated, making it incapable, to protect people, their communities or their natural environments; and

Whereas, destructive impacts to water, air, land, local economies, housing resources, roadway infrastructure, and public health are significant and well-documented; and

Whereas, all bans and moratoria on hydraulic fracturing are not true prohibitions accompanied by deterrent-level penalties, subject as they are to the vast discretionary authority of DEC officials appointed by the governor or the executive office; and

Whereas, bans and moratoria cannot guarantee prohibition of the many related activities that can be imposed on communities, including but not limited to water withdrawals, importing/dumping of hydrofracking wastes and operation of already permitted hydrofracking wells; and

Whereas, it is necessary to move beyond past focus on the techniques and harms of drilling, toxic chemicals, corporate poisoning of water and the like, and strongly assert the Peoples’ authority to decide the circumstances of energy production in our state and nation, thereby placing such decision-making where it belongs in any real democracy, in the will of the governed; and

Whereas, a law to criminalize hydrofracking with appropriate penalties most likely will not originate in the legislature or from our state officials unless the people of New York State demand such legislation to be written, introduced and enacted into law; therefore be it

Resolved, that hydraulic fracturing and all related activities shall be illegal in New York State as anti-social and anti-ecological behaviors; and be it further

Resolved, that all corporate directors or public officials committing or enabling hydrofracking or related activity shall be penalized commensurate with their violation of the law; and be it further

Resolved, that as self-governing people it is our responsibility to make the rules and write the laws by which we shall be governed; and therefore, be it finally

Resolved, that the Town of Woodstock in the State of New York supports the passage of NEW YORK PUBLIC LAW # 1 and instructs the Woodstock Town Clerk to send a certified copy of this resolution urging enactment of said law to our legislators in the Assembly and the Senate along with a copy of NEW YORK PUBLIC LAW # 1.