Fate of local drilling bans to be decided soon

Matt Richmond/WSKG
March 22, 2013

Oral arguments were completed Thursday in the case that will decide whether New York towns have the right to ban gas drilling, or fracking, and the fate of the local bans will come down to the interpretation of a single sentence.

New York Environmental Conservation Law 23-0303 says - the provisions of this article shall supersede all  local  laws  or ordinances  relating  to  the  regulation  of  the oil, gas and solution mining industries. It then goes on to affirm local government authority over road use and property taxes.

Industry lawyer Tom West said during oral arguments that if the legislature wanted to let towns ban drilling through zoning, it would be have been spelled out in that law.

Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice defended local bans for the Town of Dryden. She said that if the bans are overturned, the oil and gas industry would have unprecedented authority to operate whereever it chooses.

Both sides faced hard questions from the four-judge panel. Goldberg said afterwards that it's impossible to guess what the judges will decide.

"Sometimes they ask really hard questions because they actually agree with the person that they're questioning," she said.

A decision is expected in the next six to eight weeks and, no matter the outcome, the case will likely be appealed to the state¿s highest court, the Court of Appeals.