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August 30, 2013

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

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — 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.

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. in Binghamton welcomed the pending review by the Court of Appeals.

“The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York and our 77,000 landowners are ecstatic over the New York State Court of Appeals’ decision to review the lower court rulings in the Middlefield and Dryden cases,” a prepared statement said.

“These decisions have wreaked havoc in our towns. Local municipalities are simply not equipped to decide issues affecting our state and national interests in producing clean domestic energy,” the statement said. “New York cannot have a ‘not in my back yard approach’ to energy development.”

Cooperstown Holstein and the natural gas industry have argued that the development, production and utilization of oil and gas resources in New York is governed and regulated by Department of Environmental Conservation under the state Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law.

“We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will protect the rights of landowners and allow New York to realize the environmental and economic benefits of natural gas while allowing our nation to maintain its course towards energy independence,” Kurkoski said.

Huntington, operator of Cooperstown Holstein Corp., has argued that the town of Middlefield’s zoning change in June 2011 put a stop to her plans to have a conventional gas well on her property.

A telephone message left at Cooperstown Holstein early Thursday afternoon wasn’t returned by 5:30 p.m.

Norse’s challenge to Dryden’s drilling ban has been closely watched by an industry that wants to drill in New York’s piece of the Marcellus Shale formation using fracking technology. The rest of the formation is located under parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

The hydraulic fracturing bans in Middlefield and Dryden stand in the way of needed economic investment, according to Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council.

“We are pleased that New York’s highest court has agreed to hear these cases,” Moreau said in a media release. “It could be a significant step toward ending a state-wide moratorium that is stifling job creation and investment.”

Moreau said hydraulic fracturing is a safe technology that is creating economic opportunities.

“Natural gas development will give a huge shot in the arm to many economically depressed areas of Upstate New York,” she said.