Just a few months ago, we detailed the years-long David and Goliath battle between the small town of Dryden, New York, and Norse Corp., a natural gas company that wanted to frack the gas-rich land underneath the community’s feet.
Citing environmental concerns, Dryden’s officials unanimously banned the fracking within their borders in 2011, despite the fact that Norse had a lease to drill. Naturally, the gas company took Dryden to court (twice!).
But now, in another blow to the gas giant, New York’s top court has upheld Home Rule — a municipality’s legal right to apply its zoning laws to oil and gas wells. Essentially, New York towns and cities have the right to ban fracking.
In the 5-2 decision, the Court of Appeals upheld the opinion of a lower state court. Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote that the two towns, Dryden and Middlefield (which was also named in the suit), “studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately cultivated, small-town character of their communities.”
New York has had a state-wide fracking moratorium since 2008 which oil and gas companies are hoping that Gov. Cuomo will one day end. Dryden was the first town to prohibit it all together, and remarkably, more than 170 other communities in New York followed its lead with similar bans. With this ruling, these towns can stay frack-free even if Cuomo lifts the state moratorium.
“It’s really, really great for the local municipalities who need to defend themselves against these big national and international corporate interests,” New Paltz, New York, supervisor Susan Zimet told the Daily Freeman. (New Paltz banned fracking in November 2012.) “Home rule is about the only power our small communities have in fighting these battles.”
Deborah Goldberg, an Earthjustice lawyer who argued on behalf of Dryden told the Voice that the decision will have a “huge impact here in New York state and may very well influence similar efforts around the country.”
The anti-fracking movement has spread across state lines, including communities in California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and Ohio. Now if only the whole country could get on board.