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New York Fracking: Towns Defend Bans As Gov. Cuomo Considers Lifting Moratorium

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Brewery Ommegang of upstate New York fills more than 30,000 barrels with beer every year. The primary component of the popular Belgian, wheat and amber ales: water.

That fact, according to Larry Bennett, is why the brewery is part of a fight to keep natural gas fracking out of the town of Middlefield, N.Y.

"If chemicals from fracking get into the water, we're done," said Bennett, a spokesman for the Middlefield-based business.

The town is one of four municipalities in New York currently waging court battles defending local bans on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking -- the process of injecting pressurized fluids into the ground to fracture shale rock to release natural gas. They face lawsuits from the industry as well as from some landowners. Opponents of the bans see the gas industry as an economic boon and say local bans spoil that potential if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) lifts New York's four-and-a-half year moratorium and opens the state to natural gas drilling.

More than 150 New York cities and towns have temporary or permanent bans on fracking. Supporters said they hope to keep the bans intact around their borders no matter what Cuomo decides. The governor's decision is due by Feb. 27.

Brewery Ommegang, along with cheese and chocolate companies, a fly fishing guide, a winery, and organic farms, has filed a "friend of the court" brief in the Middlefield lawsuit, filed by the Cooperstown Holstein Corp. in 2011. Jennifer Huntington, a local dairy farmer and president of the corporation, had signed a lease with a gas company and argued that Middlefield doesn't have the right to keep them out. A city or town ban, she and others said, is pre-empted by state law designed to uniformly regulate the oil and gas industry.

"I'm not sure we will prevail statewide," said Ommegang's Bennett. "But we firmly believe we will prevail in this case."

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