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Drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale region. Photo: Laurie Barr
Drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale region. Photo: Laurie Barr

Court upholds local fracking bans

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New York State's second highest court has ruled in favor of two towns which passed laws banning gas drilling.

In two decisions released Thursday, the court ruled unanimously in favor of local control in Dryden and Middlefield.

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Reported by

Matt Richmond
Reporter, The Innovation Trail

Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg argued for the Town of Dryden. She says the unanimous decisions by the four judge panel that heard both cases puts to rest the question of whether New York towns can ban drilling.

"There's no dispute among them and there should be no dispute generally on this issue."

The defendants relied on a case called Frew Run which said towns in New York can ban gravel mines within their borders.

Plaintiff's lawyer Tom West says the court was wrong to determine the state's energy policy based on a decision about gravel mines. As a result, they might appeal to the state's highest court where that gravel mining case was decided.

"They need to correct what they said in that case and define its limitations."

West says allowing towns to ban drilling will keep the industry from ever fully developing in New York.

While about 150 towns have either banned or placed a moratorium on drilling, many town boards in the potentially gas-rich Southern Tier have expressed support for drilling.

West says allowing local bans makes industry investment too risky, even where it's supported for now.

"So if you're an operator and you want to spend tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring mineral rights in a group of towns, only to have those towns decide by a 3-2 town board vote that they want to ban oil and gas development, you're going to look like you were very imprudent in your decision making."

A statewide hold on fracking has been in place for five years while the Department of Environmental Conservation completes its environmental review. Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice says local control over industry is the way things have always worked in New York, no matter what the DEC decides.

"It leaves open the opportunity to operate where they're welcome instead of you know forcing themselves down the throat of people."

Goldberg says the Court of Appeals may still take the case because it's such a high-profile issue.

Reporting by the Innovation Trail is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Visit innovationtrail.org.

 

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