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Gas drilling in southwest Pennsylvania.
Gas rig in southwest Pennsylvania
The oil and gas industry took a hit Monday, when New York's highest court ruled 5-2 that the state's towns are within their home-rule rights to use zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing. There is already a statewide ban on hydrofracking, which uses water and chemicals under high pressure to pry hydrocarbons from tight geological formations. But residents of some towns fear the state moratorium may be allowed to expire, leaving them vulnerable to renewed fracking. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is studying whether the practice should be allowed statewide.

Kate Taylor reports:

The two towns at the center of the case—Dryden, in rural Tompkins County, and Middlefield, in Otsego County—amended their zoning laws in recent years to ban fracking, on the basis that it would threaten the health, the environment and, in Middlefield’s case, the “rural character” of the community.

Subsequently, two energy companies that had acquired leases in Dryden and Middlefield for the purpose of exploring gas extraction filed legal complaints, arguing that the town ordinances were preempted by state oil and gas law.

Dryden Deputy Supervisor Jason Leifer said in a prepared statement: "Today the court stood with the people of Dryden and the people of New York to protect their right to self determination. It is clear that people, not corporations, have the right to decide how their community develops."

The New York Appeals Court upheld rulings by lower courts in the decision. The justices made clear, however, that they were not taking a stand on the merits of fracking or fracking bans, merely confirming that towns have home-rule rights allowing them to prohibit the practice within their boundaries.:

"At the heart of these cases lies the relationship between the State and its local government subdivisions, and their respective exercise of legislative power. These appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits."
Fracking opponents say about 190 New York towns have imposed fracking bans.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Jun 30, 2014 at 12:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by New York City and Daily Kos.

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