New York ruling seen as victory for fracking opponents

In what is being seen as a victory for opponents of the drilling process known as hydrofracking, a New York State judge ruled yesterday that the upstate town of Dryden in Tompkins County could clamp a ban on natural gas drilling

Dryden's Town Board invoked provisions of its zoning laws to pass a drilling ban, a salvo in a battle that was playing out across the US as energy companies move to drill in densely populated areas. A month after the clamping of the ban, a Colorado drilling company, Anschutz Exploration Corporation,  with 22,200 acres under lease in the town, filed a lawsuit arguing that the authority of the town did not extend to regulating or prohibiting gas drilling.

In a decision issued yesterday, justice Phillip R Rumsey of State Supreme Court said that state law did not preclude a municipality from using its power to regulate land use for banning oil and natural gas production. The ruling comes as the first in New York affirming local powers in the controversial drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a gas deposit under a large area of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The ruling comes as a victory for hydrofracking opponents as New York State regulators revise an environmental impact document and seek to bring in drilling regulations and to decide whether the drilling be allowed and under what conditions. Similar bans had been imposed by dozens of other municipalities in New York.

''The communities targeted for drilling need the power to determine for themselves when, where and if fracking is permitted,'' Katherine Nadeau, the water and natural resources programme director for Environmental Advocates of New York, said in a statement. She added the ruling would energise ''the dozens, if not hundreds, of cities and towns concerned with industrial gas drilling.''

New York placed a moratorium on the hydraulic fracturing process known as fracking in 2010 while state regulators developed environmental rules. This has led to around 20 towns in the state adopting laws to ban drilling, according to Karen Edelstein, a geographic information-systems consultant in Ithaca, said.