Dryden and Middlefield Fracking Bans Tested

Landslide elections here and in the neighboring town of Caroline Nov. 8 put to rest any doubts that hydrofracking opponents have the upper hand politically in this Finger Lakes community.

But those lopsided victories will ring hollow unless the Town of Dryden prevails in court against Anschutz Exploration Corp.

In August, the Dryden town board banned oil and gas exploration and development within its borders, where the Colorado company has spent $5.1 million leasing and developing 22,000 acres. Local residents were split on the wisdom and validity of the ban, and it became the central issue in fall political campaigns.

On the Friday before pro-ban Democrats swept the elections, lawyers for Anschutz asserted to Tompkins County Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey in Ithaca that Dryden lacked the legal authority to ban local oil and gas exploration and development. Thomas West, an Albany attorney representing Anschutz, argued that the 1981 state law assigning regulatory authority over such activities to the state Department of Environmental Conservation supersedes all local laws, including zoning ordinances.

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