Huge news this morning for shale-gas drilling skeptics: the highest court in New York state ruled that towns have the authority to ban oil and gas companies from operating within city limits.
Deborah Goldberg, the lawyer who argued on behalf of the town of Dryden, New York, tells the Voice, will have a “huge impact here in New York state and may very well influence similar efforts around the country.”
In 2011, residents of Dryden passed a zoning ordinance prohibiting oil and gas drilling; Six weekes later Anschutz Exploration Corporation sued the town, arguing that only the state had the authority to make a decision like that.
Dryden, one of two respondents in this case, was the first town in New York to ban fracking. More than 170 towns and cities in New York have since joined them, in absence of any significant action to regulate fracking at the state level. There has been a moratorium on the practice since the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation initiated a review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in 2008; the New York State Department of Health began its own review in 2012. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will wait for the Department of Health to rule on the practice before acting.
See also: Cuomo Administration “Deeply Involved” in Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmentalists Say
Oil and gas interests argued that the state, which regulates the technical aspects of drilling, also has the right to regulate things like the location of wells. The court disagreed with the argument made by Norse Energy Corp. “This is the second high court in less than a year to recognize that the oil gas and gas companies do not have the right to dictate to localities where oil and gas wells go,” says Goldberg, who represented Dryden on behalf of Earthjustice, an environmental non-profit. The first such case was the Pennsylvania high court in 2013.
The issue is now before the high court of Ohio as well.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Dryden, said in a statement on Monday, “This case wasn’t just Small Town v. Big Industry–this was about New Yorkers from every corner of the state coming together to fight for the future of our neighborhoods, and to send a loud and clear message that control over hydrofracking belongs to citizens, not corporations.”