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Hearing held on fracking lawsuit

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Albany/HV: Hearing held on fracking lawsuit
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It's one of the most controversial issues in New York State right now: Whether local municipalities have the right to ban hydrofracking. The issue went before the State Supreme Court Thursday. Our Megan Cruz was there as towns made their case.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- It's been an ongoing battle: Whether a local municipality has the right to ban hydrofracking. About 100 communities have already done it, including the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County.

“What the land uses will be is quintessentially local,” said Deborah Goldberg, Town of Dryden attorney.

Goldberg is referring to Dryden's zoning laws, which gives them the right to say how their land is used.

Oil and gas company Norse Energy Corporation says a state law says otherwise. That's why it sued the town, landing the two in State Supreme Court Thursday.

Tom West said, “We have a national and state policy to promote the development of this resource.”

That's Tom West. He's the lawyer for Norse Energy. That policy he's referring to is the New York State Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law. He pointed out this portion of the law to judges that says, “The provisions of this article shall supersede all local laws or ordinances relating to the regulation of the oil, gas and mining industries.”

"Regulating an industry is a completely different subject matter and purpose than regulating land use," Goldberg said.

"A ban is the most untenable form of local regulation," said West.

Now lawyers expect the judges to reach a decision in six to eight weeks, but says whoever loses does plan to appeal. That means this issue will end up in front of the state's highest court: The Court of Appeals.

West said, "If this case is upheld on appeal, if municipalities can actually ban development, that'll be the next step in the process. The landowners will have to sue for a taking of their mineral rights."

In fact, a Middlefield woman is already suing her town for banning hydrofracking. The court heard that case Thursday as well.

“I'm hopeful,” Goldberg said. “I think we have a very good case, there's every evidence the court understands our argument.”

"We'll see,” said West. “The judges were equally hard on both sides."

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