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The battle over local fracking bans begins in Dryden, NY

Friday, October 14, 2011

By Matt Richmond/WSKG of Innovation Trail

Shutterstock / iznashih

There's a showdown brewing in Dryden, New York.

Back in August, the town passed a zoning ordinance that banned the practice of hydrofracking for natural gas. A month later, they were being sued by gas company Anschutz Exploration.

What happens here - who flinches, who wins - will reverberate across the rest of New York state.  And it all hinges on a simple question:

Can you, or can't you, ban drilling within your own town limits?

"Incompatible with our lifestyle"

Town officials in Dryden and across New York started preparing for gas drillingyears ago, when they began to see more and more leasing activity, says Dryden's supervisor Mary Ann Sumner.

"Somewhere in this process we realized ... that the gas industry was a heavy industrial use that is simply incompatible with our lifestyle," she says.

So Dryden attacked the issue on two fronts. First, it tried to work with the state to lessen drilling's impacts.

Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) 2303 gives the state sole power to regulate gas companies. That law, passed in the 1970s, would probably be much more contentious if it were to come to the state legislature today, says University of Albany Professor Erica Powers.

"Like many laws, that amendment to the constitution was proposed by the industry," says Powers.

Sumner says at the outset Dryden made an effort to comply with that law. They tried to collaborate with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on Anschutz Exploration’s application to drill locally.

But town officials noticed some problems with Anschutz's application - it had ignored the presence of a stream and power transmission lines - and ended up feeling like they couldn’t trust the DEC to protect them.

So Dryden applied its second tactic: it classified drilling as "heavy industry," prohibiting it under the town's zoning law. And that triggered the lawsuit that Dryden is facing today.

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