NY Court Upholds Small Towns’ Fracking Bans

A New York Appeals Court has ruled in favor of two upstate towns, Dryden and Middlefield, saying a lower court was right in upholding bans the towns placed on fracking – or the fracturing of underground shale rock to extract natural gas.

Dryden passed a zoning ordinance in 2011 prohibiting oil and gas drilling, including fracking. An oil company sued the rural town of 14,500 near Ithaca, saying the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation should make the decision, not the community.

A judge initially ruled in the town’s favor, but Norse Energy, a Norwegian company with U.S. headquarters in Buffalo, appealed.

“We’re very excited, we’re very happy for Dryden,” says local activist Deborah Cipolla-Dennis. “And this is good news not only for our own community here, but also for the whole state, we believe.”

A lawyer for Norse says the company planned to pursue the possibility of taking the case to a higher court, telling an Albany newspaper the ruling was “another nail in the coffin for drilling in New York.”

Cipolla-Dennis says Dryden’s townspeople voted to ban fracking because of the impact of drilling rigs, new roads, increased industrial traffic and potential for harm to ground water and other environmental impacts.

“We want to preserve our community character,” she adds. “We’re a rural area. We have beautiful landscapes. We have wonderful agricultural lands here. And we want to protect that community that we all chose to live in.”

Shaun Goho, a Harvard Law School instructor, is an expert on environmental advocacy and citizen suits. He says the court’s ruling won’t be binding on other states, but other towns around the country are watching closely.

“Municipalities have shown a new interest in passing such ordinances,” he says. “And this interest is being driven primarily by the rise of shale gas and shale oil. And fracking is bringing gas drilling into places that haven’t had to deal with it before.”

Cipolla-Dennis believes the ruling will resonate statewide.

“Some municipalities throughout New York State have been holding back and not passing bans or moratorium because they are waiting to see what happens with this case,” she explains. “So I think it’s important in that way.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has missed several self-imposed deadlines for announcing regulations for fracking.

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