Town gas bans can stand, appeals court rules

Two upstate New York towns that faced lawsuits over their gas drilling bans have won in appeals court, delivering a major victory to proponents of town "home rule." 

The towns of Dryden and Middlefield faced separate lawsuits seeking to overturn their drilling bans: Dryden from an out-of-state gas company, and Middlefield from a local dairy farmer seeking to lease her land. Both towns prevailed in lower court, but the cases were appealed by the plaintiffs. 

On Thursday, the state appellate division upheld both of the lower court's judgments. Gannett reporter Jon Campbell reports the news for Politics On The Hudson, and notes that the verdict is likely to stand:

Since the appeals court ruled unanimously, Norse Energy and Middlefield farmer Jennifer Huntington—the plaintiffs in the two cases—would have to receive permission from the state Court of Appeals to appeal to the high court.

The issue of home rule, and whether towns have the legal authority to ban gas drilling, has been a contentious one in New York State for the last several years. In the lawsuits against Dryden and Middlefield, both plaintiffs had argued that the state's Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law -- which states that the regulation of gas drilling is governed by the state, not local municipalities -- pre-empts towns from enacting gas drilling bans. 

In their decision on the Dryden case, the appellate court stated that local zoning laws do not run afoul of state law on resource extraction. From the decision:

While the Town's exercise of its right to regulate land use through zoning will inevitably have an incidental effect upon the oil, gas and solution mining industries, we conclude that zoning ordinances are not the type of regulatory provision that the Legislature intended to be preempted by the OGSML.

Note: An earlier version of this post contained a quote from the Middlefield decision. We've swapped it out for a quote from the Dryden decision, because it explains the court's reasoning better. --Ed.