February 26, 2012

Another Court Upholds Fracking Ban

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A New York State Supreme Court upheld the Town of Middlefield’s ban on hydraulic fracturing and gas drilling on Friday, mirroring a decision made Tuesday on Dryden’s hydraulic fracturing ban.

The decisions are widely expected to set a precent for cities and towns across the state that have banned fracking.

Donald Cerio, Jr., Otsego County Acting Supreme Court Justice, ruled that the Town of Middlefield was in compliance with State law when it passed a ban on oil and gas drilling in June, according to court documents.

“Local municipalities are permitted to permit or prohibit oil, gas and solution mining or drilling in conformity with such constitutional and statutory authority,” Cerio wrote in his decision.

In a similar decision Tuesday, State Supreme Court Justice Philip Rumsey ruled that the Town of Dryden’s ban on hydrofracking — a controversial practice in which chemicals are injected into the ground at high pressure to extract natural gas — falls within the authority of local governments to regulate municipal land use.

Rumsey cited a similar rationale to uphold Middlefield’s ban.On June 14, the Town of Middlefield, which is located near Cooperstown, N.Y., enacted a zoning law that banned oil and gas drilling within the geographical borders of the township, according to court documents.However, the law was challenged later that year. Jennifer Huntington, a Cooperstown-area dairy farmer, sued the town over its drilling ban, arguing that the “supersedure clause” prohibited towns from banning gas drilling. Huntington had leased mineral rights from her property to a gas company in 2007, but the zoning law would deprive residents like her the right to market their minerals under their leases, according to a press release announcing the lawsuit.In his decision, Cerio said that the supersedure clause, which he said gives the state the authority to regulate oil and gas drilling, does not prevent the town from banning it altogether.Huntington said on Friday that she was disappointed by the decision. “I’m obviously disappointed, and we’ll have to sit down next week and decide where to go from here,” Huntington told the Ithaca Journal.New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said last week that he does not have a position on whether towns have the right to ban hydrofracking, commonly referred to as “fracking,” according to The Ithaca Journal.The two rulings in Dryden and Otsego were viewed as triumphs for conservation groups that have long criticized the environmental impacts of fracking.The New York Water Rangers, a coalition of New York-based environmental organizations, applauded Cerio’s ruling in a statement Friday.“Like the Dryden ruling earlier this week, today’s ruling in [the] Town of Middlefield case proves again that ordinary citizens, and the local governments who listen to them, have power to determine the character of their communities for themselves,” the group said.More than 50 New York communities have banned gas drilling, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee