A lawsuit challenging a small town’s ban on natural-gas drilling could have implications throughout New York, where state officials are poised to approve a controversial drilling method known as fracking.
Anschutz Exploration Corporation filed suit on Friday against Dryden, a rural suburb of Ithaca with about 13,000 residents that last month amended its zoning laws to bar all gas drilling within its unincorporated borders.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended ending a year-long ban on drilling in New York, although a public comment period on the rules was extended this month following concerns that fracking contaminates underground wells and aquifers.
The Anschutz suit, which asks the state Supreme Court in Tompkins County to invalidate the amendment, is the first to test the legal implications of the state’s move.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves cracking open rocks deep underground with a blast of sand, water and chemicals to unleash natural gas and oil.
Anschutz, which owns more than 22,000 acres of land in Dryden, said New York’s Environmental Conservation Law bars local governments from any regulation of drilling.
Officials in Dryden and other towns considering their own restrictions on gas extraction say the law prohibits them only from regulating the drilling itself and not from saying where or whether it can take place.
Kevin Bernstein, an environmental lawyer in Syracuse, said the intent of the law was to create a consistent regulatory scheme throughout the state.
“For there to be a hodgepodge of attempted regulation by municipalities would run counter to that original purpose,” Bernstein said.
Dryden’s amendment said it was “not directed at the regulatory scheme for the operation of natural gas wells” but addresses land use and nuisance concerns as well as concerns over health and the environment.
The amendment is well within the town’s power, said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, an Ithaca Democrat who has been an outspoken opponent of the drilling industry. Read More…