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Surprising Science

New York Supreme Court: Towns Can Use Zoning to Ban Fracking

The New York Supreme Court struck a blow to the oil and gas industry today when it ruled that towns can use zoning ordinances to stop landowners from engaging in hydraulic fracturing, more colloquially known as fracking. 

What’s the Latest?

With much of the nation’s attention on that other major ruling today, news that the New York Supreme Court effectively gave towns the right to ban fracking passed mostly below the radar.

In a huge blow to the state’s oil and gas industry, New York’s highest court ruled today that towns may restrict the practice of hydraulic fracturing by way of zoning ordinances. Fracking has been a hot topic in the major northeastern state for months. The Times describes the practice as such: 

Fracking is the process of drilling into the ground and injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to break up shale deposits and release natural gas.

As fracking appears to have major environmental ramifications, many localities have attempted to restrict oil and energy companies from engaging in the practice within their dominion. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The court’s decision was split 5-2, with the majority stating their ruling should not be taken as a commentary on the ethics of fracking but rather how power between state and local governments should be balanced. 

The Times does a good job of recounting the back story behind the case:

The two towns at the center of the case – Dryden, in rural Tompkins County, and Middlefield, in Otsego County – amended their zoning laws in recent years to ban fracking, on the basis that it would threaten the health, the environment and, in Middlefield’s case, the “rural character” of the community.

Subsequently, an energy company that had acquired oil and gas leases in Dryden and a dairy farm in Middlefield that had leased land to a gas drilling company filed legal complaints, arguing that the town ordinances were pre-empted by state oil and gas law.

It remains to be seen whether New Yorkers’ newfound right to ban fracking will encourage other states’ towns to attempt similar strategies.

Read more at The New York Times

Learn more about fracking at the BBC.

Photo credit: Calin Tatu / Shutterstock


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