A New York judge on Tuesday invalidated the City of Binghamton’s two-year ban by on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and exploration activities that was enacted late last year.

Last December the Binghamton City Council voted 6-1 to enact the fracking ban within the city limits (see Shale Daily, Dec. 23, 2011). Mayor Matthew Ryan subsequently signed Local Law 11-006, which prohibited natural gas and petroleum exploration and extraction, underground gas storage and oilfield waste disposal.

However, in his 15-page ruling, Broome County Supreme Court Judge Ferris Lebous said the city failed to meet the criteria for a properly enacted moratorium, since the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has yet to promulgate regulations or issue drilling permits (see related story). Lebous also said it was clear the city did not enact the two-year ban so that it would have time to study the impacts from fracking (Jeffrey v. City of Binghamton, RJI No. 2012-0695-M).

“Respondents clearly are not relying on the anticipated regulations from the [DEC],” Lebous wrote. Fracking “cannot be so detrimental that it must be banned, but only for two years, particularly when it is clear that the city is not engaging in any investigation, studies or other activities in the interim in order to determine if there is a way to alleviate any harm to the people of this city from this future activity…

“The court recognizes that the issue of gas exploration, extraction and storage is a controversial issue currently being debated throughout the state and that there may be fierce opposition…by some members of the community,” he wrote. “However, the city cannot just invoke its police power solely as a means to satisfy certain segments of the community.”

The petitioners in the case included Binghamton property owners Elvin Jeffrey and Nelson Holdings Ltd., as well as landowner groups Vestal Gas Coalition and the Binghamton-Conklin Gas Lease Coalition, and Arena Hotel Corp., which owns the Holiday Inn in Binghamton.

“Our members would see that as good news,” said Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. “Clearly, the threat that people assume is imminent with gas drilling is simply not being demonstrated in New York and, frankly, not being demonstrated in other states.”

Hinman, Howard & Kattell LLP attorney Robert Wedlake, who represented the petitioners, told NGI’s Shale Daily that his clients were satisfied with the ruling. “My clients are in favor of responsible and safe gas drilling, and viewed the moratorium as an obstruction to moving forward with that process,” Wedlake said. “They viewed the moratorium as a negative message to the gas industry and to people who are considering whether this should move forward. We believe that the ruling sends the message that there are people in the Broome County area that do want to see the process move forward with appropriate regulation and appropriate oversight.”