A landowners group in central New York that supports natural gas development has established a legal fund to fight local bans and moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The legal fund established by the Central New York Landowner’s Coalition (CNY) — a group of more than 15,000 landowners that combined own about 220,000 acres not under lease — could have its first fight soon: officials in the Village of Oxford, in Chenango County, are considering a moratorium.

“It’s not just about gas drilling, it’s about private property rights and the threat to the value of private property,” CNY steering committee member Brian Conover told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday. “And this doesn’t just involve landowners; it involves very interested business owners as well.”

Last summer, officials in the Town of Oxford, which surrounds and includes the Village of Oxford, weighed either a one- or two-year fracking moratorium (see Shale Daily, Aug. 13). The village board voted Tuesday night to postpone a vote on Local Law No. 2, which calls for a nine-month moratorium on natural gas and petroleum exploration and extraction activities, the underground storage of natural gas and the disposal of associated wastes.

“The mayor [of Oxford] appears to really desire a moratorium and is following the very path that failed in the City of Binghamton,” Conover said (see Shale Daily, Oct. 2). “But we really feel positive about being able to confront this and stop it eventually. We understand that this is purely a foot in the door to be able to open wide for a ban across the board. We need to stop it now. We’re not going to wait [until the moratorium expires] and then do something about it.”

Conover said the CNY — whose members hold acreage primarily in Chenango County but also in Otsego and Delaware counties — have raised more than $3,000 through pledges or donations, and this was before the group had even sent out an email asking for money.

“There’s a lot of interest in this,” Conover said. “When we talked about this as a committee, before the meeting ended there was more than $400 sitting on the table. People mean business when it comes to this.” He added that the legal fund was being established to help landowners, not oil and natural gas companies, fight bans and moratoriums. “Some people think we should let the industry do this, but they don’t own the property. It’s our rights ultimately that we’re mostly concerned about. We’re focusing on assisting landowners and small businesses, to help them fight things that would ultimately take down their livelihood and their investment.

“We’re not asking for a penny from the industry. They already have their work going on over in the [Anschutz Exploration Corp. v. Town of Dryden] case. We wish them well on that, but this is all about landowners and small businesses.”

Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI’s Shale Daily that although he wasn’t familiar with the CNY’s new legal fund, he applauded the group for its efforts.

“I know that the folks who are working on the other side of that issue — the ones who are handing out proposed legislation banning or placing moratoriums on natural gas development — are very well funded,” Smith said Tuesday. “We’re pleased that landowners are fighting for their rights. It’s encouraging that they’re fighting for themselves. We’ve tried to support them and we have a lot of common ground of this issue.”

The Town of Middlefield in Otsego County and the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County have also enacted local ordinances that ban fracking. In separate rulings earlier this year, county judges upheld those ordinances (see Shale Daily, Feb. 29; Feb. 23). Both cases are nearing appeals (see Shale Daily, Oct. 5).

The CNY is a member of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc., which as of late has conducted efforts in the state to support shale gas development (see Shale Daily, Nov. 12; Nov. 5).