New York’s highest court will hear oral arguments in the case of Norse Energy Co. v. Town of Dryden, on Tuesday, June 3 in the New York State Legislative Office Building in Albany.
In response to a petition from over 1600 Dryden residents, the town of Dryden amended its zoning ordinance in 2011 to clarify that heavy industry such as gas drilling is prohibited in the town. Anschutz gas exploration company, at that date, held gas leases in the town of Dryden they estimated to be worth about $4 million. Anschutz immediately retained a private lawyer specializing in oil industry environmental claims, Tom West of Albany, and sued Dryden. Although Anschutz later sold its leases to Norse Energy Corp., a Norwegian company, West and his firm have stayed with the lawsuit as it moves through the courts.
West has consistently argued that state oil and gas mining law, as enforced by the DEC – which issues permits for drilling - pre-empts the town’s right to prohibit this type of business through zoning. Dryden’s lawyers have taken the stance that New York State Home Rule doctrine grants towns the right to decide where businesses can go –zoning - as well as to pass road protection laws. State supreme court judge Philip Rumsey ruled in favor of Dryden in the first round, writing in his opinion that without proof of clear intent by the legislature to pre-empt home rule with the oil and gas mining law, the town was within its rights to exclude heavy industry.
The town of Dryden has been represented pro bono by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization.
In May 2013, a four-judge intermediate appellate court ruled unanimously in favor of the Town of Dryden, marking the town’s second court victory. The court also upheld a decision in Middlefield, another New York town with a “fracking ban.”
Oral arguments will take place on June 3 at 2 p.m. Eastern at the New York State Court of Appeals, at 20 Eagle St. in Albany. The arguments will be webcast live at https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/. Attorney Helen Slottje, will be live tweeting the arguments at @TeamSlottje.
Norse Energy Corp filed for bankruptcy in late 2012, and the bankruptcy trustee has continued to appeal, with attorney Tom West representing.