Landmark Gas Drilling Court Case Against Upstate New York Town Advances

Case pits small town's rights against out-of-state gas company's wishes


Mary Ann Sumner, Town Supervisor, Town of Dryden, (607) 844-8888, ext. 227


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5235; (202) 384-7157 (cell)

An oil and gas company is scheduled to file briefs today in its lawsuit against a small town in upstate New York fighting to preserve its way of life.

The brief is expected to outline why the privately-held Anschutz Exploration Corporation, owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz (estimated net worth: $7.5 billion), thinks it should be allowed to overrule the zoning laws limiting industrial gas development in the Town of Dryden (population: 14,000).

The company brought its lawsuit after the Dryden Town Board approved a change to its zoning ordinance that prohibited use of land within the town for oil and gas development, including the process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which drillers blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the ground to force out gas. The unanimous, bipartisan vote followed a petition drive and a series of public hearings, in which residents spoke out 3 to 1 in favor of the change.

“The people of Dryden want to preserve the special character of our town and make sure it continues to be a healthy community for generations to come,” said Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner. “Mr. Anschutz may wish it were otherwise, but municipalities have the right to determine what types of development are appropriate within their borders. We are firmly committed to defending that right.”

In February, a state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the town (PDF). Anschutz appealed the decision. The case now heads to an appellate court where the town is being represented by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“The Town of Dryden has a very strong case,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg. “The court has ruled that localities retain their longstanding power to regulate land use, including by prohibiting industrial activities such as gas development in their communities. We’ll do everything we can to ensure this victory stands.”


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