As reported in the New York Times a New York State Judge has ruled that the upstate town of Dryden in Tompkins County can ban natural gas drilling within it’s boundaries. Passed last year to clarify that Dryden’s zoning prohibits the exploration for and production or storage of natural gas and petroleum, the home rule effort landed the Town of Dryden and the Town of Dryden Planning Board in a law suit brought by Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corporation, which owns leases on more than 22,000 acres in the town and has invested $5.1 million in drilling operations there. Anschutz argued that the zoning amendments amounted to an attempt by the Town of Dryden to regulate the gas industry, but the Court found that New York state’s oil and gas law does not restrict municipalities from changing their own zoning laws to halt natural gas activities.
While Anschutz may pursue appeals and other legal maneuvers to try to reassert its claims, the ruling is a decisive victory for opponents of fracking and advocates of home rule approaches to prevent fracking and related activities by concerned communities.
Under the leadership of Helen and David Slottje, Earthjustice and Dryden Resources Awareness Coalition, environmental groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper came to the defense of Dryden and another NY town, Middlefield, when their newly enacted bans on gas drilling activities were challenged at the end of last year. Catskill Mountainkeeper and others have also been pursuing legislative efforts to strengthen the rights of communities to exclude gas drilling through zoning amendments, aquifer protection laws and other home rule activities. This week’s ruling validates New York’s existing home rule law and makes a strong statement endorsing the community efforts already underway across most of New York to enact laws to protect people, animals, farmlands, and existing ways of life from unwanted industrial activities such as gas drilling.
According to the New York Times: “Justice Phillip R. Rumsey of State Supreme Court said that state law does not preclude a municipality from using its power to regulate land use to ban oil and natural gas production. The ruling is the first in New York to affirm local powers in the controversy over drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a gas deposit under a large area of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.”