New York landowners seek to overturn fracking ban

Thu May 31, 2012 8:55pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A group of upstate New York landowners has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a temporary ban on natural-gas drilling in the city of Binghamton.

The five property owners claim the Binghamton city council and Mayor Matthew Ryan violated state law in December when the city passed a two-year ban on drilling without first seeking approval from the county's planning department.

The suit, filed on Wednesday, comes as New York considers whether and where to allow the controversial drilling method known as fracking.

The Marcellus Shale, a massive rock formation that runs from the Binghamton area to West Virginia, is a prime prospect for fracking, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into rock to free the gas trapped inside.

Earlier this year, two trial judges upheld permanent gas-drilling bans in the Ithaca suburb of Dryden and the town of Middlefield, near Cooperstown. In those cases, which are currently under appeal, the towns argued that banning drilling fell within their rights to regulate local land use.

Kenneth Kamlet, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said the Binghamton case was different because, while it alleges procedural errors, it does not argue that banning drilling is illegal.

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Broome County, argues that the ban will hinder economic development in the gas-rich suburbs of Binghamton, by chasing away drilling companies.

"The city is shunting aside both the state and the county in terms of their primary jurisdiction and capabilities with regard to protecting public water supplies," Kamlet said in an interview.

Mayor Ryan's spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs include two individual landowners, two landowner groups and Arena Hotel Corporation, which owns a Holiday Inn in Binghamton. The landowners own "dozens, if not hundreds of acres" of land in the Binghamton area, Kamlet said, and are hoping to profit from gas leases if the state approves fracking.

(Reporting by Dan Wiessner; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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