Court: Towns can ban fracking

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  • A hydrofrackng rig in Dimock, Pa.



— Towns in New York State can ban hydraulic fracturing through the use of zoning, according to a ruling Monday by the NYS Court of Appeals.

The state Court of Appeals ruled 5-2 in favor of the towns of Middlefield, in Otsego County, and Dryden, in Tompkins County, which had passed local bans against fracking.

An oil-and-gas company and a Middlefield dairy farm had challenged the bans, arguing that New York law gives full power to the state to regulate the industry.

“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.”

The decision Monday affirms the rulings of the lower courts, which had ruled in favor of the towns.

High-volume hydrofracking has been on hold in New York since 2008, when then-Gov. David Paterson ordered the Department of Environmental Conservation to complete a lengthy environmental review. That review continues today under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with no deadline for completion.

Anschutz Exploration Corp., a Colorado-based oil-and-gas company, first challenged Dryden’s anti-fracking zoning ordinance in 2011, and the Cooperstown Holstein Corp. filed suit against Middlefield not long after. Norse Energy took over for Anschutz after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the town, and Norse’s trustee took over after the company filed for bankruptcy last year.

The Town of Chester banned hydrofracking in 2013.

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