Dryden lawsuit weighed on New York fracking ban

REPRINTED FROM THE ITHACA JOURNAL

by Andrew Casler, acasler@ithacajournal.com | @AndrewCasler

Dryden’s landmark court victory on hydraulic fracturing weighed heavy as New York officials announced Wednesday that the state won’t allow fracking.

In June New York’s highest court issued a decision in Norse Energy v. Town of Dryden. The court decided that local governments have the right to ban fracking.

Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner — who oversaw the town as it unanimously banned fracking on Aug. 2, 2011 — said Wednesday that she was thrilled to learn that Dryden played a role in New York’s fracking ban.

“This is the best possible outcome of the governor’s decision-making process; this is more than I had hoped for,” Sumner said.

She congratulated all the Dryden residents who fought for a statewide ban.

“It’s really thrilling to realize that a grassroots effort really can make a difference,” Sumner added.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said the Dryden case winnowed down the small area in New York where fracking could be possible. He said 63 percent of New York’s Marcellus Shale formation wouldn’t be available for drilling due to the restrictions proposed or being considered by DEC and local bans or moratoria.

“The practical impact of the Dryden decision that I mentioned earlier is that even more acreage may be left from (fracking),” Martens said.

Within 4.5 million acres not excluded by state or local restrictions, there are about 253 towns with zoning and 145 without zoning, he said. Towns with zoning would have to determine whether their law restricts or allows fracking, and towns without zoning would have to decide whether they would allow fracking virtually anywhere, or adopt zoning laws, Martens said.

“The uncertainty about whether HVHF (high volume hydraulic fracturing) is an authorized use would undoubtedly result in additional litigation,” Martens said. “It would also result in a patchwork of local land use rules, which industry has claimed would utterly frustrate the rational development of the shale resource.”

Dryden Safe Energy Coalition spokesman Henry Kramer said New York, and Dryden, lost many high-paying jobs by blocking fracking. The Dryden Safe Energy Coalition formed in opposition to Dryden’s anti-fracking activists.

“There are so many other states that have used fracking, and have used it for years, and this decision by Cuomo says that all of the other states are wrong, and we’re right, so that doesn’t make a great deal of sense,” Kramer said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he wasn’t qualified to determine whether New York should allow fracking. The governor said he deferred the decision to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Martens. Both Zucker and Martens didn’t approve of fracking in New York.

Lawmakers react

New York Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, said the state’s decision to block fracking was almost more than she had dared to hope.

“We need to protect our water; we need to protect the health of our citizens — words fail me in terms of how I’m feeling,” Lifton said.

Lifton said that about 80 percent of her workload as a state lawmaker has been dedicated to fighting fracking, and now she’s looking to turn her efforts toward supporting renewable energy development and fighting climate change.

State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, said Cuomo’s decision “eviscerates the hope of so many Southern Tier farmers, landowners, businesses and potential jobs in the natural gas industry. O’Mara represents the City of Ithaca and towns of Enfield, Ithaca, Newfield and Ulysses, as part of the 53rd District.

“Governor Cuomo says no to a source for low-cost and cleaner electrical generation which is critical to our state economy as a whole,” O’Mara said in a news release. “This country was built on exploration and innovation but Governor Cuomo today closed the door on both for us here in the Southern Tier and New York State by saying no to shale gas exploration. New York is once again last.”

State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, said that any decision on fracking must be based on science. Seward represents the 51st District, which includes the towns of Caroline, Danby, Dryden and Groton.

“Today the governor moved to ban hydraulic fracturing in New York, and while many disagree and some litigation is likely, in light of the governor’s decision, we need to move on to develop robust economic development strategies that capitalizes on our other resources,” Seward said in a news release.

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, called the state’s decision “devastating.”

“This decision makes it even more difficult to replace the good jobs that have already left due to New York’s unfriendly business climate,” Reed said in a news release. “Once again Albany shows that it wants to enact an extreme liberal agenda rather than care about individual property rights and job opportunities.”

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About Dryden Resources Awareness Coalition

A grassroots, all volunteer group of concerned citizens of the Town of Dryden focused on protecting our natural resources.
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