NY's Gas Drilling Future Rests on Local Lawsuit

By Lindsay Nielsen

November 2, 2011 Updated Nov 2, 2011 at 6:12 PM EDT

Middlefield, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Tensions over natural gas drilling are at an all time high in Middlefield.

A local farmer filed a lawsuit against the town for its decision to ban drilling.

Jennifer Huntington has already signed a gas lease, but the town's new zoning laws say there will be no drilling of any kind.

"I use three or four, five million gallons of water a year to feed the cattle. I don't want to damage that either. I've listened to the science and talked and I do not believe that this is going to damage water," says Huntington.

Huntington says she's done her research, and has toured wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

In New York, hydraulic fracturing for shale drilling is on hold while the DEC finalizes new regulations.

New York's Environmental Conservation Law bars local governments from regulation of drilling, but the town argues it's not regulating, only deciding if the industry is allowed in.

"We feel that through home rule we have the authority to ban natural gas drilling in our town," says Middlefield Town Supervisor Dave Bliss.

"I would argue that banning is the ultimate regulation and I think in terms of this type of industry you can't have a patchwork of laws in municipalities if the one next to me allows it and the one here does not how are you going to get the product from point A to point B," says Huntington.

"These court decisions are key to setting the legal boundaries in New York State in terms of the authority that local governments have in this regard," says State Senator James Seward.

State Senator Seward is pushing legislation to also interpret the law.

"My legislation would clearly give local governments the authority to through their local land use planning process and local zoning to determine whether or not this is an allowed activity or not," says Senator Seward.

The State Senate has decided not to move forward with any gas drilling bills until the DEC concludes its study, which means until then, Huntington's lawsuit in Middlefield takes center stage.

Huntington's lease is with GASTEM which has about 30 leases in Middlefield.

Company President Raymond Savoie says it is letting leases drop in Otsego County.

"Some of these areas are just getting misinformed. The best thing to do is just move forward to other counties," says Savoie.

Savoie adds there are a few they will keep for conventional wells already in the area.