A small New York town prevailed Thursday in a court battle against the energy industry, which wants to frack the ground beneath the townsfolk’s feet despite a local law that forbids the practice.
A moratorium is in place on fracking in New York, but Dryden and dozens of other municipalities around the state have passed local ordinances banning the practice in case the state prohibition is lifted. Drillers argued in court that the town’s fracking ban violated state law (a law unrelated to the moratorium), and that they should be allowed to drill for gas there despite the locals’ wishes.
A state trial court judge ruled last year in favor of Dryden. That ruling was appealed, and, on Thursday, Dryden, with the support of public-interest law firm Earthjustice, prevailed again in a state appeals court. Attorneys for Norwegian company Norse Energy Corp. vowed to appeal the latest ruling to a higher state court. That means the dozens of local fracking bans in New York aren’t safe just yet — but the two legal victories so far are a promising sign.
More than 50 New York municipalities have banned gas drilling in the past few years, and more than 100 have enacted moratoriums on drilling activities.
The court decision involved interpretation of state law that says regulation of the oil and gas industry rests solely with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Norse lawyer Thomas West had argued that the law is intended to prevent waste of oil and gas and protect the mineral rights of multiple landowners.
“When a municipality says you can’t drill here, you have the ultimate waste of the resource and destruction of the correlative rights of the landowners,” he said during oral arguments in March.
But the court ruled the law doesn’t pre-empt a municipality’s power to enact zoning laws that would ban gas drilling.
Fancy that, the fracking industry arguing against “waste.”