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Local News

August 30, 2013

N.Y.'s highest court to hear frack suit

The state Court of Appeals said Thursday that it will hear the appeal of Cooperstown Holstein Corp., which sued the town of Middlefield regarding its ban on drilling, including hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

“The future of New York’s energy policies and the rights of New York landowners now rests in the hands of the justices of New York’s highest court,” Scott Kurkoski, attorney for Jennifer Huntington in the Middlefield case, said in a prepared statement.

The Court of Appeals will hear that case and an appeal filed by Norse Energy Corp. in its suit against the town of Dryden. The cases will be heard and decided in the spring, Gary Spencer, court spokesman said.

In May, the state Appellate Division upheld bans passed by the towns of Middlefield in Otsego County and in Dryden in Tompkins County. The towns also had prevailed when state Supreme Court judges upheld the municipalities’ rights to enact home rule legislation against drilling.

Ellen Pope, director of Otsego 2000, an environmental organization in Cooperstown, said the hope is that the Court of Appeals will uphold the lower-court decisions that municipalities have a right to home rule and to measures pertaining to the character of their communities.

“It’s an issue of statewide significance, otherwise the court wouldn’t have taken it,” Pope said Thursday.

Middlefield Supervisor David Bliss said the town expected the high court would hear the case because of its broad impact. The town continues to hope for a ruling favorable to home rule, he said.

“We’re still confident,” Bliss said.

Since Middlefield and Dryden enacted their drilling bans in 2011, about 170 towns and villages across the state have passed bans or moratoriums preventing drilling for natural gas.

New York state hasn’t decided to lift a five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process that frees gas from deep-rock deposits by injecting wells with chemical-laced water at high pressure. State officials continue to study the effects of the process, which opponents warn may damage water supplies and the environment.

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