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May 9, 2013

Middlefield drilling ban upheld


Middlefield Town Supervisor Dave Bliss said: “We’re pleased that the court has agreed with our position that a ban is not a regulation, and we had the authority to do what we did.”

Nicole Dillingham, president of the environmental group Otsego 2000, and a supporter of home rule laws against drilling, said Bliss and all the Middlefield town board members were courageous to defend the town from drilling even as the town was being threatened with potentially costly legal action.

She said she hopes the rulings will prompt other towns that have not already banned fracking to follow the path chartered by Middlefield and Dryden.

“There is no excuse now for towns not to take steps to protect their citizens,” said Dillingham. “People threw grilled cheese fundraisers and gave their birthday money for the defense of Middlefield. This is a David and Goliath story, with people from these communities standing up and saying, ‘No, we’re not going to do it this way.’”

Bliss said the defense of Middlefield’s law has cost about $100,000 so far, but the legal fees have been covered by donations that have poured in from supporters of home rule. So far, he said, money from taxpayers has not had to be used for the legal defense. The fundraising effort was initiated by a grassroots citizens group called Middlefield Neighbors.

Since Middlefield and Dryden enacted their drilling bans in 2011, about 150 towns and villages have passed either bans or enacted moratoriums preventing drilling for gas trapped under shale formations.

The gas industry and Huntington contended that Middlefield exceeded its authority and that only the state Department of Conservation was empowered by the state Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law to regulate drilling.

The towns responded that they were not regulating drilling but instead were banning it.

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, an advocate for allowing hydrofracking in gas-rich regions of New York, said it was disappointed by the ruling.

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