Spin Cycle

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The long-running fracas over fracking centers on a geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which spreads under several states. Its New York portion sits largely in the Southern Tier, to the north and west. But two new court rulings, from distant Tompkins and Ostego counties, could hit home on Long Island -- if they survive expected appeals, and if this gas-drilling technique ever commences in the state, where a moratorium is in effect.

State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey ruled Tuesday that the upstate town of Dryden acted within its rights last year when it banned what's properly called hydraulic fracturing. The method uses horizontal drills and pressurized fluids break up underground rock to release natural gas. On Friday, state Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio issued a similar ruling affecting upstate Middlefield.

Critics of the technique emphasize its use of potentially toxic chemicals, their possible leakage and the need to dispose of them in sewage plants. So when anti-fracking advocates gathered Feb. 17 with petitions urging Sen. Jack Martins (R-Garden City) to co-sponsor a statewide fracking ban, they said Glen Cove's wastewater treatment plant and others could receive "contaminated fracking water." Spokesman Joe Rizza told Newsday's Ted Phillips that Martins considers supporting either a ban or a further moratorium.

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If the time came, the kind of local control bolstered by the upstate rulings might allow Long Island communities to turn away the wastewater. A state draft environmental impact statement identifies a handful of Long Island plants as possible destinations, noted Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket), a geologist and energy committee member. On fracking overall, "I characterize myself as pro-moratorium, until we learn more," Englebright said. Suffolk legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) have filed a bill barring this wastewater from county sewage plants.

Anschutz Exploration Corp., which challenged Dryden's ban in court, states on its website that it "is consistently recognized by peers, contractors and regulatory agencies for its outstanding effort in geology and engineering as well as safety, environmental and operating practices."

Sam Bernhardt, Long Island organizer for the anti-fracking Food & Water Watch, said: "The Dryden decision doesn't change our stance. . . . This is an inherently dangerous practice that shouldn't be allowed anywhere in New York."