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Judge to Rule Within 60 Days on New York Town Drilling Ban

A judge in New York State is expected to rule within 60 days if the Town of Dryden, NY, overstepped its authority when it enacted an ordinance and a zoning requirement this past summer banning all oil and gas development activities.

Tompkins County Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey heard oral arguments for about an hour from attorneys representing the town and Anschutz Exploration Corp. (AEC) on Friday morning.

"It was a good oral argument," Thomas West -- an attorney with The West Firm PLLC in Albany, NY, who is representing AEC -- told NGI's Shale Daily on Friday. "The judge gave us all the time we needed. He looked into the issues but didn't make any decisions. We won't have any guidance until he rules."

West said Rumsey denied requests several environmental groups and another New York town to participate as friends of the court in the case.

According to court documents, several groups -- Natural Resources Defense Council Inc., Brewery Ommegang, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers Inc., Riverkeeper Inc. and Catskill Mountainkeeper the public interest law firm Earthjustice -- filed a memorandum of law amici curiae on Nov. 1. The Town of Ulysses and several town officials also filed similar memorandums on Nov. 2.

"They weren't following the rules," West said. "They didn't make their motions in a timely manner, so he didn't let them participate."

Despite the exclusion of its environmental supporters, Dryden Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner told NGI's Shale Daily that she thought the town would ultimately prevail.

"The briefs were extensive and the oral arguments were minimal," Sumner said Friday. "Seriously, the hearing was anti-climatic. I think both sides did very thorough preparation. There were good arguments on both sides and the rest is up to the judge. Of course, I think he'll rule in our favor. I think our argument is well founded and quite persuasive."

West filed a lawsuit against the Town of Dryden on AEC's behalf in September (see Shale Daily, Sept. 21). He also filed a request for an Article 78 proceeding, which under New York law can be used to challenge a municipality's actions.

At its meeting on Aug. 2, the Dryden Town Board unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting natural gas exploration and extraction and a zoning ordinance declaring gas activities to have a negative impact under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR).

Denver-based AEC has 22,200 gross acres of leasehold in the town -- 39% of its territory -- and is permitted to drill wells in the Trenton-Black River formation. AEC and other operators will probably use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to drill into the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Dryden area.

Other municipalities in New York that have enacted bans on fracking include the City of Syracuse and the Town of Middlefield (see Shale Daily, Nov. 3; Sept. 19).

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued several recommendations on fracking in July, including a ban on the practice in the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse (see Shale Daily, July 5). Those recommendations have since been included in the revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on fracking issued in September (see Shale Daily, Sept. 8). The agency is accepting public comments on the SGEIS through Dec. 12.

A recent Quinnipiac College poll of New York voters found 44% support drilling because of the economic benefits while 43% oppose it over environmental concerns (see Shale Daily, Oct. 28).

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