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In the Zone: Judge Rules NY Town Can Ban Fracking

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday February 23rd, 2012 | 0 Comments

One way to stop fracking is to do it one town and county at a time.

New York Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey ruled this week that the Town of Dryden, NY has the right to adopt zoning rules that prohibit natural gas drilling that uses the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method of extraction.

In Anschutz Exploration Corporation v. the Town of Dryden and the Town of Dryden Town Board, the judge concluded that the town’s zoning ordinances are not preempted by the state’s Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law.

The Denver-based Anschutz has active exploration or production projects underway in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Two drilling rigs are under long-term contract in North Dakota and drilling projects are planned in all six states. Well, maybe not in New York anymore.

The nub of Judge Rumsey’s reasoning is on page 22 of the 29-page ruling: “While this is a case of first impression in New York State, the issue of the use of the local zoning power to regulate location of natural gas drilling operations has been considered in several decisions of the highest courts of Pennsylvania and Colorado. While they are not binding precedents in this case, it is instructive that both courts reached the same conclusion as this court did by applying New York precedent – that their respective state’s statute governing oil and gas production does not preempt the power of a local government to exercise its zoning power to regulate the districts where gas wells are a permitted use.”

So while Dryden, which is located about 200 miles northwest of Manhattan, can’t invalidate a lawfully issued permit by another government entity, it does have the right to regulate the use of the land within its borders.

“This will go a long way to reassure towns and local governments that properly enacted land use and zoning laws remain enforceable against industry claims that they were immune from their application,” said Nicole Dillingham from Otsego 2000, quoted in an EcoWatch report.

Anschutz did not comment on the ruling. The company has 30 days to appeal.

It’s a big win for local democracy with national implications because it opens the door for local fracking bans. Plus, it’s a cool David and Goliath story: small town stands up to powerful oil and gas interests—and wins.

[Image credit: Dryden Lake Town Park by Enoch Ross via Flickr cc]


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