News Column

New York Towns Win Fracking Case

June 30, 2014

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Natural gas well (file photo)

New York state's laws regulating hydraulic fracturing do not bar towns from using zoning to ban the controversial process, the state's highest court said Monday.

The state court of appeal ruled for the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, and against Anschutz Exploration Corp. -- a Colorado company that sued Dryden and the Cooperstown Holstein Corp., a dairy farm that sued Middlefield. Anschutz and Cooperstown had already lost in the lower courts.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses liquid under high-pressure to create fractures in rock, allowing oil and gas to migrate to a well. Critics of the process say it can pollute ground water and cause widespread environmental degradation, affecting neighboring properties, while backers say it opens up new resources and gives hard-pressed farmers in states like New York and Pennsylvania additional income.

Gov. David Paterson ordered a state review of fracking in 2008 that is still underway with no major operations allowed until it is completed. In February, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, representing about 70,000 property owners, sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seeking to speed up the review.

"We are asked in these two appeals whether towns may ban oil and gas production activities, including hydrofracking, within municipal boundaries through the adoption of local zoning laws," Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote in the majority opinion. "We conclude that they may because the supersession clause in the statewide Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law (OGSML) does not preempt the home rule authority vested in municipalities to regulate land use."

Dryden is a town of about 14,000 people near Ithaca, while Middlefield is a small town in the central part of the state near Cooperstown.

"Heavy industry has never been allowed in our small farming town and three years ago, we decided that fracking was no exception. The oil and gas industry tried to bully us into backing down, but we took our fight all the way to New York's highest court. And today we won," Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner said in an e-mailed statement. "I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what's right for their own communities."

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Original headline: New York towns trying to zone out fracking win legal battle



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