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December 02, 2016
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New York’s highest court to hear fracking, home rule case

The battle between those in favor of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and those against it in New York State will get one more hearing before a court of law. The New York State Court of Appeals announced on August 29, that it will hear the zoning and home rule cases regarding fracking bans in the towns of Middlefield and Dryden.

The announcement brought quick reaction from both sides as the issue continues to be at the center of one of the most heated environmental debates at the local, state, national and global levels.

Dryden town supervisor Mary Ann Sumner said, “We are confident that the Court of Appeals will affirm, as two other courts have before it, that our town has the right, enshrined in our state constitution and upheld by the courts, to decide how land is used within our town borders.” She added, “The oil and gas industry is dissatisfied and stubbornly insists on dragging out this court case. Clearly, they’re not used to not getting their way.”

Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg said, “Every court that has had the opportunity to address fracking in Dryden has upheld the local power to limit the use of land for oil and gas development. But the industry is hoping that the Court of Appeals will reverse those decisions. Our client, the Town of Dryden, is fighting the unwelcome industrialization of a quiet, rural community. And we’ll fight at its side until this matter is resolved once and for all.”

On the other side of the issue, New York State Petroleum Council executive director Karen Moreau welcomed the decision by the court to hear from local landowners and the oil and natural gas industry on the bans. She said, “Natural gas development will give a huge shot in the arm to many economically depressed areas of Upstate New York. We are pleased that New York’s highest court has agreed to hear these cases, and it could be a significant step toward ending a state-wide moratorium that is stifling job creation and investment.”

Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York said, “In our view, local bans on oil and gas exploration violate New York’s Environmental Conservation Law and create patchwork public policy and a level of regulatory uncertainty that discourages business development. State laws were enacted with the specific purpose of overseeing natural gas extraction, in that local municipal leaders lack the resources, scientific background and regulatory expertise to do so.”

So far the lower courts have not agreed with Gill’s interpretation of the Environmental Conservation Law. Two supreme courts and the Appellate Court have ruled essentially that the law gives jurisdiction over how drilling may be conducted to the Department of Environmental Conservation, but the towns may still determine where drilling may occur in the municipality or if it may occur at all.

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo is still awaiting the results of a health survey before finalizing fracking in the Empire State, and therefore a ban remains in place for the entire state five years after the rule making process began.