Acting Supreme Court Justice Donald F. Cerio, Jr. ruled in favor of the Town of Middlefield’s ban on hydrofracking,. The ban, issued by the Otsego County town in September, prompted a claim by Cooperstown Holstein Corp. that the ordinance denied rights of parties to reap economic benefits of a lease to develop mineral rights on 400 acres within the town. The plaintiff also argued that the state’s authority to permit wells supersedes a local municipality’s authority to ban it.
I link to the ruling is available here.
Cerio ruled that state law “does not serve to preempt a local municipality … from enacting land use regulation within the confines of its geographical jurisdiction.” Additionally, “local municipalities are permitted to permit or prohibit oil, gas and solution mining or drilling in conformity with such constitutional and statutory authority.”
The ruling is likely to encourage restrictions in upstate New York communities with populations disinclined to accept risks associated with high volume hydraulic fracturing. The process, commonly known as fracking, extracts gas from rock by injecting pressurized chemical solutions into the ground. Resistance, based principally on concerns over water contamonation, has been especially strong in New York’s major cities, including New York City, Buffalo, Binghamton and Syracuse, as well as in rural communities in the Finger Lakes and Catskills.
On Tuesday Supreme Court justice Phillip R. Rumsey upheld the right of the Town of Dryden, in the Finger Lakes region, to ban mineral extraction activities. The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Anschutz Exploration Corporation, which argued that state permitting laws regulating oil, gas, and mineral extraction superseded local ordinances.
Both the the Middlefield and Dryden cases are among the first in New York to test the issue known as home rule, or the right of local governments to make their own decisions about regulating the drilling industry. As reported in a post earlier this week, lawyers involved with home rule cases told me that the Middlefield decision – decided by the state’s lower court -- would likely be appealed regardless of the outcome because of the high stakes. Oneonta and other places in upstate New York sit over massive shale mantels, including the Marcellus and the Utica, which are thought to hold some of the richest natural gas reserves in the world.