The state’s governor hasn’t decided whether to allow fracking, but a New York appeals court on Thursday ruled that local governments have the right to ban the controversial practice.
The decision is a key victory for environmentalists, and sets up a scenario where the true battle over fracking in the Empire State will take place town by town, rather than in Albany.
“We hold that [existing state oil and gas law] does not preempt, either expressly or impliedly, a municipality’s power to enact a local zoning ordinance banning all activities related to the exploration for, and the production or storage of, natural gas and petroleum within its borders,” the court wrote in its decision.
The case began after the small town of Dryden voted in 2011 to ban all oil and gas development, including fracking. Dryden is one of at least 150 local governments in New York to reject the practice; Thursday’s decision seems to indicate that all of those prohibitions will stand up to legal challenges.
“The people who live here and know the town best should be the ones deciding how our land is used, not some executive in a corporate office park thousands of miles away,” said Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, continues to weigh whether he’ll allow fracking in parts of upstate New York. By his own admission, much of upstate is economically depressed and in need of a boost — something the oil and gas industry could certainly provide. The sector has created thousands of jobs and revived local economies in neighboring Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
But Thursday’s ruling greatly complicates Mr. Cuomo’s decision.
Even if he green-lights the practice, it’s possible that very little, if any, fracking would take place if enough resistance is generated at the local level. Environmental groups and celebrity activists such as Yoko Ono already have drummed up unprecedented anti-fracking sentiment in New York, putting Mr. Cuomo — a rumored 2016 presidential candidate — in a tough political position.