New York Judge Upholds Town of Dryden’s Ban on Fracking

A New York Supreme Court judge has upheld a local municipality’s ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling.

According to a Bloomberg report today, Judge Phillip Rumsey denied a motion from Anschutz Exploration Corp., which filed a lawsuit against Town of Dryden in September 2011, shortly after local officials there passed a ban on fracking drilling within the town’s limits. The ban was enacted several months after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted a moratorium on drilling in some parts of the state. Rumsey said state laws did not pre-empt Dryden’s ban, the basis for the Denver, Colo., company’s lawsuit.

Dryden’s ban was similar to that passed in about 20 other local municipalities in New York, according to the report. These municipalities and local officials are passing bans on fracking drilling as reaction to the hunch that state laws will soon allow more widespread drilling. They’re worried state officials do not share similar concerns of local leaders about the potential health and environmental dangers of fracking drilling while state officials seem more vulnerable to strong lobbying efforts on the part of the oil and natural gas industries to allow drilling.

Dryden sits atop the massive Marcellus Shale formation, a multi-state underground bed of rock believed to contain more than $3 trillion in hidden natural gas reserves. By employing the fracking process, natural gas explorers can extract the resource from the rock but not without posing serious threats to local health and environment.

Fracking works by ushering a drill, thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand and a mix of more than 600 chemicals into an underground well shaft until it reaches the rock formation about a mile or two below the surface. When the materials reach the destination, the rock is blasted apart, releasing the natural gas. Everything rushed into the wells is forced back out and supposed to be fully captured.

Problems arise most often through poorly constructed wells which allow these drilling materials to leak through seams and into the ground, eventually contaminating ground water supplies. Many previous reports suggest people living with an active fracking well face the most serious risk of health problems and environmental contamination. In neighboring Pennsylvania, where state and local laws are often too lax to block fracking drilling and thousands of wells are in operation or have been proposed, dozens of residents believe the controversial drilling process has led to contamination of their private water wells with methane gas and other harmful toxins which has, in some cases, rendered private water supplies completely useless.

Fracking has also been blamed on localized air pollution and for contaminating nearby streams and creeks which gradually flow into public water supplies. Poorly constructed wells have led to more problems than the drilling process normally would create.

At the core of most fracking debates is the unwillingness of drilling companies to disclose the materials they use in the fracking process. There are about five dozen of the 600 chemicals used in the fracking process which are believed to be known toxins but are agents which the industry hides as “trade secrets” in evading any attempts made to force full disclosure of them.

Anschultz maintains the option to appeal the state Supreme Court’s decision but an attorney representing the company told Bloomberg said he wasn’t sure if the driller would exercise that option.

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