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Local News -

April 23, 2014

Drilling appeal attracts lots of 'friends of court' briefs

Ommegang one of many to file 'amici briefs'


Kurkoski noted the New York experience differs markedly from how the issue is playing out in Colorado, where a Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, has threatened to sue any local town that bans hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

“The governor of Colorado has recognized it is crucial to pursue state interests,” said Kurkoski, who argued that the state needs to be free of “municipal interference” when it crafts statewide energy policy.

More than a year after the Cuomo administration assigned state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to study the health impacts of fracking, no decision has been made, and Shah said earlier this month he will leave his post in May for a new job. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the former state attorney general who is seeking to be re-elected this year, has offered no opinions on whether towns can legally zone out drilling.

Those groups and firms seeking to uphold the authority of the local drilling bans want them in place because they preserve the towns’ character and features that attracted them to open shop in the first place said John Barone, an Albany lawyer handling the friend of the court application for the 26 home rule backers.

Ommegang had obtained friend of the court status in earlier stages of the Middlefield case but a new request must be made to the Court of Appeals, Barone said.

Though the drilling debate often elicits passionate emotions on both sides, Ommegang spokesman Larry Bennett said the craft brewery with nearly 100 employees has felt no significant negative backlash for supporting Middlefield’s ban against drilling. But the company has fielded numerous comments from people who agree with its support of home rule, he added.

“For every one I’ve seen that says, ‘I’m never going to buy your beer again,’ I’ve gotten 200 saying, ‘I’m behind you,’” Bennett said.

Barone said he is virtually certain the Court of Appeals will grant the friend of the court status to those seeking to submit briefs. What is unclear, he said, is whether the seven-member court will allow oral arguments from those with “amici” status on June 3.

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