Upstate Community Continues Fracking Court Fight

As state moves forward with fracking regulations, communities defend themselves


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5235

An Upstate New York town is continuing its legal battle to preserve its way of life, filing a brief today in a court case over whether an oil and gas company should be allowed to overturn local zoning laws limiting industrial oil and gas development.

The lawsuit was initially brought by the privately-held Anschutz Exploration Corporation, owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz (net worth: $7.5 billion), against the Town of Dryden (population: 14,500).

The company brought its lawsuit after the Dryden Town Board approved a change in its zoning ordinance, clarifying that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were “prohibited uses” of land within the town. The Dryden Town Board’s 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. “The oil and gas industry 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 New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dryden. Anschutz appealed the Dryden decision. Last month, Norse Energy, a Norwegian company, replaced Anschutz Exploration in the litigation. Earlier this month, Norse filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceedings. A second court rejected a similar lawsuit, challenging a ban on oil and gas development in the Town of Middlefield, and that case also has been appealed.

The Town of Dryden is being represented in the appeal by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. “The Town of Dryden has a very strong case,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg. “Two courts have 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.”

In addition to the lower court victories in Dryden and Middlefield, a Pennsylvania state court has also overturned a portion of a controversial state law that sought to override local zoning laws related to fracking. That case is now on appeal before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

Today’s filing follows news in late November that the State of New York was issuing a revised regulatory proposal for hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which drillers blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the ground to force out gas. The revised regulations have come under fire because they were released without the benefit of a review of the health impacts of fracking. The move puts the state one step closer to allowing the controversial practice to proceed in New York.

Read a copy of the brief filed today.

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