Driller Sues NY Town to Challenge Local Drilling Ban

judge's gavelAnschutz Exploration this week will file a lawsuit against the Town of Dryden (NY) to strike down the town’s recently passed ban on gas drilling. Dryden is a small township with two villages—Dryden and Freeville—located in Tompkins County, near Ithaca. Its land area is 94.2 square miles with some 13,500 people living there.

In New York, the state reserves the right to regulate the oil and gas industry and, according to state law, local municipalities are restricted to regulating road use with respect to oil and gas drilling. Dryden’s measure banning drilling (passed in August) is, according to the drilling industry, illegal. This lawsuit will challenge it.

Dryden officials argue that the state does not and cannot tell a municipality how it can regulate other industries, and the gas industry should be no different. It is a classical constitutional issue and both sides are watching this one closely.

In what could be a precedent-setting case for municipalities statewide, a Denver-based natural-gas company will file the first lawsuit against a local drilling ban in New York, the company’s attorney said Tuesday.

Anschutz Exploration Corp. plans to file a lawsuit this week in state Supreme Court in Tompkins County to have the town of Dryden’s ban struck down, according to Thomas West, an Albany-based attorney representing the company.

With the state moving toward allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing – a technique used with gas drilling – Dryden has been among more than 15 municipalities or counties across the state that have altered zoning regulations or passed legislation meant to ban the activity, either temporarily or permanently.

But state Department of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens has said a court will likely have to decide whether those bans hold up under state law. New York’s environmental conservation law includes a two-sentence clause adopted in the 1980s giving the state power to regulate the oil and gas industry, though it allows municipalities to regulate the industry’s use of their roads.

In August, the Dryden Town Board unanimously approved a change to its zoning laws, expressly prohibiting any gas exploration, extraction or storage.

"It will be a good opportunity to let the courts decide whether municipalities can, under the guise of zoning or otherwise, ban or regulate drilling," West said. "Hopefully, it won’t be a difficult issue for the court."

Dryden Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner defended the town’s decision, saying she was confident the town has firm legal standing. The town, she said, conducted "research on the legality of doing what we did and we are confident that our zoning is within our jurisdiction.

"DEC cannot preempt our ability to regulate land use," she said, asserting that Dryden, like any other municipality, has the right to decide the industries that conduct business within its borders. "Heavy industry is in conflict with our major industries," she said, and the town can regulate heavy industry using its land use laws.*

*Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (Sep 14, 2011) – Gas company to sue Dryden over town’s drilling ban

  • Anonymous

    I am going to say that what happens in this case may dictate the fate of drilling in many college areas. Unfortunately many of those who teach at these institutions are very liberal in their thinking and oppose almost anything that will bring progress to their area. Whats more, they gain the confidence of their students who aid in their liberal agenda by making them think they are having their first free thought away from mommy and daddy by “revolting against the machine”. If you had not noticed, there were hardly any college based rallys against drilling this summer due to the fact that many of the “protesters” were back home enjoying a fun summer off. Dryden is the suburb of Ithaca and the home of many liberal thinking college faculty (Cornell & Ithaca College). Just outside the borders of these college towns is the real world – where the folks who service and build these institutions live. In the real world we need clean efficient energy that will sustain the region and bring prosperity to those living in it. As usual the liberals who will type somthing against drilling don’t get the fact the energy they are using to do so came from somewhere. Why is it ok there but not here???

  • Anonymous

    This is completely full of holes.  Are you from our area at all?  I don’t believe you are.  I live  in a small town outside of Ithaca (the college town you speak of) but we have about 2500 residents to Dryden’s approx. 9000 residents.  I live lived on our 100 acres for over 30 years and my family has owned it since it was offered as a Revolutionary War tract.  Our town is the second poorest town in our county.  There is currently petitioning for a ban as well and most of  the signors are not college educated.  

    Please do not claim to speak for us.  We are looking forward to the lawsuit against Dryden because it their law is written very well to reflect the Town’s rights to assert it authority in matters regarding land use.  It will be a precedent setting suit that will help bolster other towns to protect themselves and the nature of their communities from UNNATURAL gas.  

    While I am college educated, the majority of my rural neighbors are not.  Gas companies came here years ago and took advantage of multiple farmers and poor land owners by promising them treasure.  Their leases are atrocious injustices.  THAT is what happens in a community where the educated DON’T protect those who are at risk and have low information.  We also don’t have much high-speed Internet either so this community is at a loss for educating themselves on the issues.  

    Unless you live here…don’t claim to know about our area.  

  • Anonymous

    Mc Betsy You proved my entire post. You are college educated and from the area and YOU wish to speak for all of the residents in your area who are not college educated. Luckily their are landowner groups in every area now who will watch out for the landowner. You should join with your hundred acres, I have with my 120. I will give you credit I did not grow up in the area I have my property, but I am there now. But here is a FACT you did not acknowledge – Dryden is jam packed with College faculty is it not??
    The reason some people were “scammed” into poor leases is they did not conduct due dilligence themselves. Sorry, but if you are going to lease your property to anyone you should first do some reasearch or consult with those wh have- You don’t need to be college educated to know that. Similar to buying a car, be wary of the slimeball salesman who tells you everything on the car is perfect but tells you can trust him and not to have it checked out.  Sounds like Landmen to me.
    Anyway, I know you oppose (obviously) and I support safe drilling in the state. I know I will not change your mind and you will not change mine. Here is the reality. I base my opinion on facts you base yours on ideology. Good luck in your quest.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, but you are incorrect.  My community is small enough and my situation (a 40 something small biz owner in a community I have known people in all my life)  is one in which I can completely understand why people feel the need to sign a lease.  I understand that our farms are being sold off in subdivided parcels just to pay the taxes, and that these folks are my neighbors and I care for them.  I am disgusted that “landmen” who REPRESENT gas companies with their approval come to their door and promise them that this will be an easy way to make money.  My friends (also residents of all different ages, some much older and all who own land and many who are not college educated) have spoken with hundreds of residents in our town.  Very few want hydrofracking in our town.  VERY FEW.  The accurate numbers for us are 44% leased- representing 10% of the landowners holding leases.  Striking isn’t it?  

    I went to college while raising my family and working in my own business.  I am not some high-falutin’ college educated person.  I am a blue collar worker who loves her community and her neighbors.  This is not about ideology.  If the gas companies would take my tax dollars (SUBSIDIES THEY JUST CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT) and use it toward R&D like they say they need it for, and come up with a way to do it without destroying our roads, our landscape, and our water and land, I am all for it.  Until then, it can stay in the ground until hell freezes over for all I care.  

    Our town has a huge wind farm proposal before it that has been in negotiation and regulation stages at town level for 7 years. I have watched this process at town board meetings in amazement. Why on earth shouldn’t they pay the same attention to the safety and comfort of our community and its residents with regard to gas drilling.  

    Not just DRYDEN is full of academia in this area…Cornell is the biggest employer in Tompkins County-  but it also supports many counties that surround us.  And not all of academia at Cornell is against fracking.  Again, if you don’t know the area, don’t purport to understand what goes on here.

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