NY court decision bolsters anti-fracking movement

Court Watch Posted on

A New York court decision has bolstered a movement among towns determined to prevent the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas within their borders.

A state Supreme Court justice on Tuesday upheld the town of Dryden's August 2011 zoning amendment banning gas drilling. Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corporation, which has spent $5.1 million leasing and developing 22,000 acres in Dryden, about 40 miles southwest of Syracuse, had argued state law trumped the ban.

More than 50 New York communities have enacted gas-drilling bans. Binghamton attorney Helen Slottje, who helps draft such laws, says the ruling should embolden towns considering local bans.

"We think it's a terrific vindication of the town's right to home rule and to decide their future," Slottje said Wednesday. "It really should give the green light to communities that want to proceed down this route."

Albany attorney Tom West, who represented Anschutz, said the trial-level state court decision is likely to be appealed to the mid-level Appellate Division and, if necessary, to the state Court of Appeals.

"We remain confident in our position that municipalities cannot ban natural gas drilling in New York state," West said.

Another challenge of a municipal gas-drilling ban is pending in Otsego County, where Cooperstown Holstein Corp. sued the town of Middlefield over a ban similar to Dryden's. The lawsuit says the landowner has leased nearly 400 acres to a gas-drilling company and the ban would block the economic benefits of the arrangement.

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