The Richmond Town Board voted unanimously recently to adopt a local law prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and other forms of unconventional gas exploration and drilling.
With fracking drawing high levels of public attention, New York State officially banned fracking in June 2016. Watchdog groups warn the ban could be rescinded, however, as environmental rollbacks take place at a federal level and energy consumption patterns change.
The town of Richmond placed a moratorium on fracking in 2012 after a petition to do so garnered more than 400 signatures. The moratorium remained in force through January 2017, allowing time for a Hydrofracking Focus Panel and the Richmond Town Board to determine how to move forward.
The focus panel spent several years researching the impacts of fracking and weighing those against considerations outlined in Richmond’s zoning code and comprehensive plan, which are designed to protect and enhance agriculture. Forty-two percent of the town is assessed for agricultural use, and the Richmond Town Board adopted a Right to Farm Law in 2012.
“A large part of this town is devoted to agriculture,” said Richmond councilmember Steve Barnhoorn, who chaired the focus panel. “We do not want to limit family farms from pursuing their livelihood.”
After the panel made a recommendation to prohibit industrial drilling in the town of Richmond, Barnhoorn also shepherded the draft law on natural gas extraction through a review process that included input from the Ontario County Planning Board and Richmond town attorney.
“It was an exhaustive process,” Barnhoorn said. “We needed to make sure we crafted the law properly.”
From the start, he noted, the central goals of the fracking review and ban have been to preserve Richmond’s small-town character and protect the health and wellbeing of residents.
“We have a duty to protect public health and safety,” said Barnhoorn, noting that fracking has potential negative impacts to aquifers and wells. “The overarching aim was to preserve clean drinking water.”
The ban also bolsters ongoing legislative efforts to preserve the quality of Honeoye Lake.
“Given the fragile nature of our watershed and the frequent storm events we have experienced in recent years, hydrofracking would not be appropriate for our town,” said Barnhoorn.
Richmond’s new law prohibits extraction and exploration for natural gas and petroleum using technologies such as high volume hydraulic fracturing, LPG fracturing and other emerging types of unconventional drilling. It also prohibits related activities, including storage, injection or disposal of waste byproducts.
The law continues to allow conventional methods of natural gas drilling and storage, traditionally used for on-site agricultural purposes; and grandfathers in the current activities of Honeoye Storage, a local gas storage facility, as a pre-existing nonconforming use.
“Honeoye Storage contributes to our local economy and has proven to be a good neighbor to our community,” said Barnhoorn. “We want to continue to maintain this positive partnership.”
With the new law adopted after a lengthy process, Barnhoorn said citizens should be proud of their successful efforts to choose the future they want to see in Richmond.
“This was a true labor of love to protect our town,” he said.