New York’s top court ruled in June 2014 that New York’s towns have the authority to use local zoning laws to effectively ban fracking within their borders.
The court upheld zoning ordinances passed in 2011 by the towns of Dryden and Middlefield prohibiting gas drilling and fracking within town lines. For three years both towns had been embroiled in separate legal disputes over the validity of local fracking bans, having been sued independently by an oil and gas company and a dairy farm challenging the bans around the interpretation that New York law gives full power to the state to regulate the industry.
Writing for the majority position in the Court of Appeals decision, Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo said, "We are asked in these two appeals whether towns may ban oil and gas production activities, including hydrofracking, within municipal boundaries through the adoption of local zoning laws. We conclude that they may because the supersession clause in the statewide Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law does not pre-empt the home rule authority vested in municipalities to regulate land use."
This precedent-setting ruling could have wide implications on the future of shale-gas drilling in New York State. Since 2008 more than 150 towns and cities have passed moratoriums to prohibit fracking within their borders, and that number may well increase.
Stopping fracking in your community
Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council have partnered to create the Community Fracking Defense Project to provide legal and policy assistance to towns and local governments seeking added control and/or protections from hydraulic fracturing in their communities.
Some examples of project activities include:
- Assisting in drafting local laws and land use plans that control the extent of fracking within town borders and limit the harmful effects of fracking.
- Defending relevant zoning provisions and other local laws that are challenged in court.
- Assisting residents and citizen groups in challenging industry-sponsored pro-fracking resolutions and/or other pro-fracking actions. For example, we recently successfully challenged a town board’s adoption of a gag order on residents’ right to discuss fracking.
- Working to re-affirm communities’ rights to protect themselves under state law by representing environmental and conservation groups on amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs as industry appeals decisions upholding the rights of towns to ban fracking within their borders.