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Albany lawmakers ban hydrofracking

ALBANY -- City lawmakers brushed aside fears of costly lawsuits from the oil and gas industry and narrowly approved a ban on gas drilling inside city limits, a move aimed squarely at the controversial drilling technique known as hydrofracking.

In doing so on Monday night, the Common Council joined Buffalo, Cooperstown and what advocates said have been more than 50 other cities, towns and counties in New York that have somehow limited the practice before state environmental regulators can start issuing gas companies permits to start drilling.

But given Albany's place as the seat of state government and home to the headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, its ban may take on even greater significance.

Mayor Jerry Jennings -- a close ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose administration has taken criticism for pushing ahead with hydrofracking despite sharp resistance from environmental groups -- has not said publicly whether he will veto the measure, which city code gives him 10 days to do.

The ordinance passed by an 8-5 vote.

The opposition centered around the argument -- backed by gas industry lobbyists -- that state law pre-empts local governments from regulating gas drilling, a job given explicitly to the DEC.

Arriving at the same conclusion and citing the risk of a lawsuit, a city attorney urged lawmakers to table the measure until the state has completed devising its rules to govern drilling.

Michael O'Brien, chairman of the council's general services committee, said the city was setting itself up to join other communities being sued by the gas industry.

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