By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- The state Department of Environmental Conservation may soon have to weigh in on a local gas-drilling ban after a Genesee County-based company filed suit against the agency.
Lenape Resources, a small natural-gas company based in Alexander, sued both the DEC and the Livingston County town of Avon earlier this month, challenging the town's recent ban on gas drilling and storage.
The company is seeking $50 million from the town, claiming the ban has cost Lenape millions in the form of lost business and unused mineral rights.
"It is my business," said John Holko, Lenape's president. "It's all I do and what I've spent all the money for in the area, and I don't have much of a choice but to take an action."
Avon passed a ban on natural-gas extraction and underground storage earlier this year. The town has contended the ban includes a "grandfather clause" for existing operations, though Holko claims it isn't broad enough and forced him to shut down.
Avon Supervisor David LeFeber could not immediately be reached for comment.
The lawsuit represents at least the fourth attempt to overturn a local ban or moratorium on drilling or hydraulic fracturing, the much-debated technique used to release gas from underground shale formations.
Lenape's suit, however, is unique: It marks the first time the DEC has been included in such a challenge.
The company claims state law doesn't allow municipalities to ban gas or oil drilling. Enforcement of that law, the company's suit claims, lies with the DEC.
"This issue is before the courts and we will let that process progress," DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said.