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Anschutz Sues New York Town Over Drilling Ban

An attorney representing Anschutz Exploration Corp. (AEC) has filed suit against the Town of Dryden, NY, arguing that the town of overstepped its authority when it enacted an ordinance and a zoning requirement this summer banning all oil and gas development activities.

Thomas West, an attorney for The West Firm PLLC in Albany, NY, told NGI's Shale Daily that he filed a request for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in the Supreme Court for Tompkins County on Friday. He also filed a request for an Article 78 proceeding, which under New York law can be used to challenge a municipality's actions.

"This isn't a race, but we've just chosen accelerated procedures because we think it's a clear issue of law," West said Monday. "We think the Town of Dryden is very clearly preempted from enacting zoning regulations to ban natural gas drilling and related activities.

"We're hopeful that the courts will see it our way and be able to get right to the merits without getting into any ancillary issues."

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).

Dryden Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner could not be reached for comment Monday, but her website seeking reelection to the post claims that the town studied how it would be affected by shale drilling through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for two years.

"Even as we worked to create protections for roads, surface water, aquifers and critical environmental areas, we concluded that the effects of heavy industry, including gas drilling [through fracking] would be detrimental to our daily lives," Sumner said. "Furthermore, the risk and possible consequences of an accident involving gas or toxic chemicals far outweighed the financial gain to the few landowners who stood to profit from gas leases."

West said Denver-based AEC has 22,200 gross acres of leasehold in the town and is permitted to drill wells in the Trenton-Black River formation. He said about 10 wells -- drilled horizontally into dolomitized limestone and stimulated through means other than fracking -- have been drilled in the town historically. Wells added that AEC and other operators would probably use fracking to drill into the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Dryden area.

A court date has not been set, but West anticipates that the Article 78 hearing could be held in October or November.

Last week a dairy company, Cooperstown Holstein Corp., filed suit against the Town of Middlefield, NY, in the Supreme Court for Otsego County for a similar zoning ordinance outlawing oil and gas operations and some forms of heavy industry (see Shale Daily, Sept. 19).

The legal battles between the industry, landowners and municipalities such as Dryden and Middlefield come in the wake of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issuing the final draft of its supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on fracking earlier this month (see Shale Daily, Sept. 8). The DEC said tens of thousands of new jobs could be created in the Empire State if the shale industry is allowed to develop. The agency is accepting public comments on the SGEIS through Dec. 12.

A recent poll of New York voters also suggests that a majority favor shale gas development (see Shale Daily, Aug. 15).

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