The town of Avon has become the third community in upstate New York to win a court case over the right to ban fracking operations.
Western New York-based gas drilling company, Lenape Resources, took Avon and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to court over the town’s moratorium on drilling, saying the ban would put it out of business.
Jim Campbell, the Avon town attorney, says they’re pleased with the court ruling, but the decision goes beyond the town itself.
“It’s bigger than just the town of Avon, what it means is that we have some further judicial confirmation that municipalities have the right to determine what land uses are appropriate in their community, and what’s best for their constituents,” said Campbell.
Acting attorney for Lenape Resources, Michael Joy, says the ban on drilling is bad for business, and creates a precedent where municipalities can regulate the oil and natural gas industries through zoning.
“The reality now is, under current New York law, local municipal governments appear to be able to regulate the oil and natural gas industry through zoning," Joy said. "They have not before done that, or been able to do that so quite frankly I don’t think anybody really knows what the impact is going to be.”
“The moratorium adversely impacts their business, and the company was very clear about that and I don’t see any upside at this point. But, they will now reach out and work with the community to see exactly what the community wants,” Joy says.
Avon town officials say there intention isn’t to hurt business. They say the moratorium was carefully worded to ensure none of Lenape’s existing projects would be affected.
“The town of Avon, from day one of the discussion was very interested in making sure to protect the ability of Lenape to continue to do what they had been doing in the community of Avon," says Avon attorney, Jim Campbell. "They didn’t want to put Lenape out of business, they didn’t want to displace them from the town.”
The moratorium is in place for another year and town supervisor David LeFeber says that will give the town time to make a decision on whether to allow fracking in the future.
“It’s basically a pause button. It’s a one year period for us to make sure that if there was any activity to occur here in town, that the health, safety and welfare of our residents as well as the infrastructure in the community is protected,” LeFeber says.
Two previous cases won by towns in upstate New York are being heard by the state appeals court this week. Appeals of the Dryden and Middlefield decisions will be argued in Albany, with Norse Energy aiming to have the home rule affirming drilling bans in both towns, overturned.