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Court rules New York communities can ban fracking

Anti-fracking protesters in Manhattan, New York. Creative Commons: CREDO, 2012

Anti-fracking protesters in Manhattan, New York. Creative Commons: CREDO, 2012

New York’s highest court upheld the fracking bans of two towns Monday, setting a precedent that will protect similar measures in 170 municipalities throughout the state.

In a 5-2 decision, the New York state Court of Appeals ruled that municipalities can use zoning laws to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders.

The ruling ends a three-year legal battle between industry and the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, which elected to ban the controversial practice within city limits.

Hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking, injects a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand into the ground in order to unlock oil and gas deposits. Technological advances have made the procedure nearly ubiquitous in many states in the US and have driven American oil output to a 25-year high.

The process, however, has brought the realities of oil and gas extraction too close to home for many. While in hot pursuit of new reserves, fossil fuel companies are drilling and installing wells closer to inhabited areas than ever before—in some cases as close as 500 feet from dwellings and schools.

As fracking has spread, so has the controversy surrounding the process. While industry groups defend the procedure, it has been linked to the contamination of underground aquifers and dangerous air pollution. The industrial activity associated with fracking also frequently strains communities’ infrastructure and water resources, especially in the country’s drought stricken western states.

In New York, environmental groups and municipal governments lauded the court’s decision. Deborah Goldberg, an attorney for Earthjustice said that the ruling “sent a firm message to the oil and gas industry,” while Dryden Deputy Supervisor Jason Leifer said:

Today the court stood with the people of Dryden and the people of New York to protect their right to self determination. It is clear that people, not corporations, have the right to decide how their community develops.

Although the court’s decision will not have legal implications for communities outside of New York, anti-fracking activists across the nation welcomed the news.

In other oil and gas hotbeds, such as Ohio, California, and Colorado, communities have pushed back against fracking by mandating that companies disclose their mix of fracking chemicals and by requiring before-and-after groundwater tests. Additionally, Los Angeles, California and at least five Colorado municipalities have voted to enact moratoria on the process.

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