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  • Joint Landowners Coalition of New York v. Cuomo

Environment Extremists & Hollywood Heroes Fight Locals As New York Pols Dawdle To Placate Anti-Energy Radicals; MSLF Fights Back For Rural Landowners & Property Rights!

Mar 15, 2014 | by William Perry Pendley

In February, a coalition of New York landowners and three property owners sued Governor Andrew Cuomo, two State agencies, and their top officials demanding the right to develop the rich Marcellus Shale beneath their land.  After nearly six years of a moratorium barring them from using their land to develop its energy pending an environmental study, they have waited long enough.  One of them is Jonathan R. Kark of Fenton.

Jon Kark represents his family’s sixth generation farming the land; he and his wife Patricia own 353 acres of land in north central Broome County, northeast of Binghamton, the county seat, where they run 50 head of cattle.  Jon Kark and his wife have four children and four grandchildren.  He prefers to run cattle, operate his trucking company, help the non-denominational, nonprofit Christian camp his father created in 1970 on part of the farm, and be with his family, but for six years he has been everywhere but home.

In July of 2007, he leased his mineral rights to an independent oil and gas company for a five-year term; if the company drilled, made a discovery, and produced natural gas, it would pay a royalty.  Bad news accompanied the good news; the potential value of that gas increased his property taxes.  More bad news came in July of 2008.  Governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium on new permits for wells using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (HF)—the six decades old technology whose modern application unlocked vast amounts of energy on State and private land across America—until completion of an environmental study. 

In June of 2009, anticipating completion of the study and seeking to make the highest and best use of Jon Kark’s mineral estate by producing its oil and gas, his lessee filed six horizontal well applications.  By that time, Jon Kark had left town.  Fearing loss of the family farm under the pressure of its mortgage and the county’s taxes, he hired on as a heavy equipment operator to develop energy resources all across the country, anywhere but New York! In 2012, Jon Kark got lucky:  in July his lessee extended its term for another five years—until 2017—and in December he spent two weeks at home with family at Christmas time.  In 2013, he was home one week at Christmas.   

The irony for Jon Kark and those with whom he joined in filing the lawsuit—including the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York with its 38 landowner groups that represent over 70,000 landowners and a million acres across fourteen counties—is that the policy of New York is to promote the development of indigenous oil and natural gas resources so as to prevent waste, protect correlative rights, and provide for greater ultimate recovery of these resources.  Plus, every agency and its officials are mandated to adhere to the State's energy policy, including processing all oil and gas well permit applications "as expeditiously as possible."

Specifically, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which oversees the regulation of oil and natural gas drilling, is required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) not only to consider various factors prior to approving activities that may have an adverse effect on the environment but also to expedite proceedings to minimize procedural and administrative delays in obtaining drilling permits.  In fact, in 1992, to streamline the well permitting process, the DEC did a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) that recognized use of horizontal drilling and HF.  In 2008, New York’s Environmental Conservation Law was amended as to spacing requirements of drilling units for wells using horizontal drilling and HF, and the DEC began its Governor Paterson mandated study.

In nearly six years, the DEC released a “draft supplemental” GEIS, received thousands of public comments, held multiple public meetings, and issued a “revised draft supplemental” GEIS, but under Governor Cuomo’s “study it to death” policy, the final GEIS remains unpublished! 

Meanwhile, Jon Kark does whatever it takes to save his family farm, dying from high taxes and regulatory overkill.  Each day his furor increases, however, as he considers what is happening fewer than 15 miles away in Susquehanna County, home to the top 13 most productive Marcellus Shale natural gas wells in Pennsylvania.  One local farmer who leased his lands says the royalties will not make him rich but it will save the family farm, "I think it'll help keep ground open.  It'll keep it from having to be sold off."

Who could be against that?  Governor Cuomo, for one.  Cuomo, who declared that pro-lifers, defenders of the Second Amendment, and advocates of traditional marriage "have no place in the state of New York,” seems to believe the same about people who drill for, discover, and deliver valuable energy, create high-paying jobs, and rebuild local and regional economies by ballooning tax revenues all while saving family farms and open space.

Governor Cuomo also appears to be doing the bidding of the rich and famous.  New York City liberals—those from plush pads on the Upper West Side and elsewhere—along with Hollywood movie stars, and rich musicians and performers have waged a vicious, vindictive, and vituperative war of words and actions against locals who want to use their land. 

Remarkably, MSLF’s clients have the courage to take on such powerful forces.  MSLF, fresh from defending landowners at the Supreme Court of the United States, is ready for this battle.  Thank you for your wonderful support!

For more information:  Joint Landowners Coaliton of New York v. Cuomo

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