Ommegang's fracking concerns gain national stage

The Ommegang Brewery has been at its Cooperstown location since 1997. Photo by Flickr user Jim Kelly. Used under Creative Commons license.

Jerry Bennett, Ommegang Brewery's P.R. and creative services manager, told the Washington Post today that, should Middlefield's ban on hydrofracking be struck down in the courts, the 15-year-old brewery which provides work for 80 people in the Cooperstown area may be forced to move its operations. The leadership at Ommegang, which pumps about 3 million gallons of water annually from three wells on its property, is looking ahead to the ruling and beginning to plan.

While the brewery can treat water to remove sediment and adjust the pH, Ommegang doesn’t have the resources to filter out the chemicals, asserts Bennett.

If its water supply were compromised, Bennett said, the brewery would have three options.

One is to truck in water from outside the area. The New York City aquifer, he noted, is exempted from drilling and is only 40 miles away. But hauling in enough water to supply the brewery’s current needs, let alone allow it to keep growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year, would be difficult and expensive.

Another option would be to relocate elsewhere. And a third would be to call it quits and shutter the brewery, putting more than 80 employees out of work. “Obviously, that’s our last option,” said Bennett.

Some months back, Ommegang spoke to the Daily Star and expressed concerns that, should Middlefield's ban on hydrofracking be lifted, the brewery would be forced to relocate from its Cooperstown location.

As we reported in September of last year, two lawsuits have been filed to overturn local bans on drilling by towns in New York State. Ommegang has filed an amicus (or friend-of-the-court) brief in the Middlefield lawsuit, to support upholding the town's ban on drilling and heavy industry.

The question here is whether existing laws prohibit towns like Middlefield from passing local legislation that bans techniques like hydrofracking. Opponents to the ban say yes, like plaintiff Cooperstown Holstein, a local dairy that brought the lawsuit against the town of Middlefield. A similar suit was brought in the Tompkins County town of Dryden by a Colorado-based drilling operation which has land rights in the town.

Other voices in the community point to the right to legal domain over land use rights that townships may exercise.

Legal analysts and Bennett do not expect the case to be resolved before late 2012.

An earlier draft of this story conflated two recently filed lawsuits that seek to overturn town bans on gas drilling. One was brought against the town of Middlefield, the other against the town of Dryden. Though the suits involve very similar legal issues, and in fact the two plaintiffs share a lawyer, they are two separate lawsuits. Apologies for the error.