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Court of Appeals rules towns can ban fracking within their borders

In a 5-to-2 ruling, New York’s highest court has upheld the right of local governments to ban hydrofracking within their borders. The decision comes after a nearly three-year court battle over bans passed in the Towns of Dryden and Middlefield. Fracking opponents hope to now spread the bans to towns that were waiting for the court’s final ruling.

The two cases involved a natural gas producer, originally Anschutz Exploration before Norse Energy took over, and a Cooperstown-area landowner named Jennifer Huntington, challenging drilling bans passed by the Towns of Dryden and Middlefield.

The Court of Appeals decision is the last stop for the plaintiffs, who lost at each level before reaching the state’s highest court.

The court found that, if the legislature wants to prevent local governments from banning drilling, they’ll have to go back and change the law governing oil and gas regulation in New York.

Ithaca lawyer Helen Slottje helped craft the laws banning or placing a moratorium on drilling that nearly 200 towns in New York have passed in the last five years. Slottje says she expects to see many more towns take up their own bans.

“I think that this will you know be a really empowering, be a solid green light, to those communities that have been waiting for this sort of unequivocal confirmation.”

A statewide hold on hydrofracking remains in place, while the state’s department of health completes a review of the industry’s health impacts. Supporters of fracking in New York called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to at least complete the review and permit fracking in the parts of the state that haven’t passed bans.

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Matt Richmond comes to Binghamton's WSKG, a WRVO partner station in the Innovation Trail consortium, from South Sudan, where he worked as a stringer for Bloomberg, and freelanced for Radio France International, Voice of America, and German Press Agency dpa. He has worked with KQED in Los Angeles, Cape Times in Cape Town, South Africa, and served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon. Matt's masters in journalism is from the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.