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Future of Fracking at Stake in NY Courtroom Today?

PHOTO: The town of Dryden is one of two municipalities with zoning laws banning fracking for natural gas. Their cases are being argued today in New York's highest appeals court. Photo courtesy of the town of Dryden.
PHOTO: The town of Dryden is one of two municipalities with zoning laws banning fracking for natural gas. Their cases are being argued today in New York's highest appeals court. Photo courtesy of the town of Dryden.
June 3, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. - A case being argued in New York's highest appeals court today could shape the future of fracking - using hydraulic pressure to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation beneath much of the Empire State.

The towns of Dryden and Middlefield in the Finger Lakes region voted to use local zoning laws to ban fracking in their communities. Norse Energy Corporation USA, a foreign-owned natural gas drilling company, sued the towns.

Helen Slottje, who initially came up with the legal strategy defending the zoning, predicts Dryden and Middlefield should prevail, with the help of lawyers from Earthjustice.

"We're very hopeful and optimistic that the Court of Appeals will rule that communities in New York have the right to say 'no' to gas drilling, and to be able to say 'no' to this sort of heavy industrialization," says Slottje.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration has missed several self-imposed deadlines for announcing regulations for fracking. If Dryden and Middlefield win, dozens of other New York communities that have similarly zoned out fracking would likely see more cities and towns follow suit, with local votes taken on the issue.

If the anti-fracking zoning is upheld, Slottje says she would expect to see the gas industry bring enormous resources and pressure to bear to influence local populations and governments to reject fracking bans. But she adds that approach won't be easy for the energy exploration industry to succeed with.

"Local governments tend to be small enough and personal enough that the people who are elected have to live in those communities - and so, it's harder to basically ignore what your constituents want."

Slottje says the gas industry and its supporters could turn to the state legislature to step in and attempt to overturn local bans.

"In Pennsylvania, the legislature made no bones about it." Slottje says. "Pennsylvania told anti-fracking supporters, 'We're passing a law: You can't regulate industry – and, by the way, we mean you can't zone it out either.'"

Norse Energy owns or leases approximately 130,000 acres in New York state, and has said it looks forward to developing the land's resource potential.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY