This Town Took On Fracking and Won

Tiny Dryden, New York, just won the right to send frackers packing.
Kate Sheppard/Mother Jones

Kate Sheppard/Mother Jones

There was a time not so long ago when the most contentious issue in Dryden, New York, was hiring a new dog catcher. Situated in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Dryden is a rural town with a population of just 14,500 spread over 94 square miles. It’s “a little more progressive than your average upstate town,” explains town supervisor Mary Ann Sumner, because it gets some spillover residents from nearby Ithaca, a college town. “But we’re still just an upstate town,” best known for dairy farms and cornfields.

But everything changed in August 2011, when Dryden became one of the first towns in New York to ban fracking. Natural gas interests swiftly sued, putting the once sleepy spot in the middle of a nationwide debate over gas drilling. Last week, after a spending a year and a half in court fighting to protect its ban, Dryden became the first town in the state to prevail over the gas industry—in a case that could set a precedent for other towns that are trying to keep frackers out.

In 2008, New York imposed a statewide moratorium on fracking, until more research could be done on the environmental and health effects of the practice. But towns all over the state have tried to find their own way to exert control over the industry if and when the state decides to let drilling go forward. Fifty-four other towns have fracking bans in place, and another 105 have passed moratoria. The court’s decision last week also upheld a similar ban in Middlefield, a town in central New York, and the two cases together are expected to give traction to the other towns looking to take similar actions.

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