In a victory for opponents of natural gas fracture drilling, or fracking, a New York judge has upheld that the town of Dryden, NY has the right to ban the practice within its borders.
In a ruling released late Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey held that the Ithaca suburb of Dryden's recent ban on gas drilling falls within the authority of local governments to regulate local land use.
Anschutz Exploration Corporation, which owns leases on more than 22,000 acres (8,900 hectares) in the town and has invested $5.1 million in drilling operations there, argued the ban violated a state law designed to create uniform regulations for oil and gas drilling and encourage the extraction of those resources.
"Communities targeted for drilling need the power to determine for themselves when, where, and if fracking is permitted." -Katherine Nadeau
Rumsey disagreed, holding the law was not written to favor the industry, but to regulate it in such a way that "prevents waste ... and protects the rights of all persons."
"Nowhere in the legislative history (of the state oil and gas law) is there any suggestion that the legislature intended — as argued by Anschutz — to encourage the maximum ultimate recovery of oil and gas ... or to preempt local zoning authority," Rumsey wrote.
Fracking is a process in which chemical-laced water and sand are blasted deep below ground to release oil and natural gas trapped within rock formations. It has allowed companies to tap a wealth of new natural gas reserves but critics say the procedure has polluted water and air.
"By upholding Dryden's fracking ban, Judge Rumsey has brought a renewed sense of hope to the many cities and towns concerned with fracking," said Katherine Nadeau, of Environmental Advocates of New York. "Regardless of fracking's documented dangers--particularly New York's failure to study industrial gas drilling's health impacts or responsibly plan for the treatment, transport, or disposal of hazardous fracking waste--the communities targeted for drilling need the power to determine for themselves when, where, and if fracking is permitted." And added, "Courts across New York State should recognize the need to safeguard the rights of our communities."
“This is an important vindication of local democracy—with national ramifications—at a time when it is being trampled in our country by powerful interests like the gas and oil industry,” said Adrian Kuzminski, a moderator for Sustainable Otsego, in a report at EcoWatch.