Attorney gives advice to towns looking to protect land from rigors of gas drilling

PLYMOUTH – Towns may use local laws to protect against heavy industrial activities that impact land, such as natural gas drilling, according to a lawyer who made a presentation Monday night to the Plymouth Town Board.

David Slottje, an executive director and senior attorney at Community Environmental Defense Council, said a town’s police powers would extend to land use matters under municipal home rule law, and existing New York mining statute does not take away that local authority.

He also suggested that towns enact moratoriums before the state’s environmental conservation regulators complete their revision of the rules for permitting horizontal shale gas drilling. Doing so first would lessen the financial impact of any potential lawsuits brought by companies and or landowners who challenge local law, he said.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is currently sifting through tens of thousands of comments on a draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement. The NYSDEC stopped permitting shale wells in 2008 amidst reports of water contamination in neighboring Pennsylvania and other states in the country where high water volume hydraulic fracturing has been and remains ongoing.

The legal opinion is counter to one offered to those attending a Chenango County Natural Gas Advisory Committee meeting in Norwich last summer. Attempts by government officials to zone the natural gas industry, beyond creating road use ordinances and determining real property taxes, is superseded by New York State Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Law, said a former director of the DEC’s mineral resources division.

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