Preserving the Environment

Watch How This Little Town Stood Up Against a Gas Giant

May 15, 2014
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Watch How This Little Town Stood Up Against a Gas Giant
Screengrab via YouTube
What happens when a rural community in upstate New York bands together to take on fracking?

Three years ago, the town of Dryden, New York was at the center of a classic David and Goliath tale where concerned locals took on Norse Energy Corp. (a natural gas company that wanted to drill the land underneath the community) and prevailed.

Dryden, a town with a population of only 14,000, was one of the first communities in New York to ban hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — a process that shoots a mixture of water and chemicals into rock formations to release natural gases. The controversial process is driving a drilling boom across America; opponents claim that has devastating impacts, ranging from environmental damage to significant health concerns.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law organization dedicated to environmental issues, released this new short film (below) that takes a look back at this inspirational story, showing galvanized locals picking up phones and going door-to-door — ultimately gathering 1,600 petition signatures (that’s one in 10 people in the town) against fracking. Dryden officials unanimously voted on a ban in August 2011.

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Norse Energy slapped the town with a lawsuit, arguing that under state law, Dryden didn’t have the right to restrict drilling. However, after two rounds of court, it was declared that New York’s mining and drilling law doesn’t trump the authority of local governments to control land use.

Since this decision, more than 170 communities in New York have joined Dryden and passed similar bans or moratoriums on fracking. The movement has spread across state lines and now includes communities in California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and Ohio.

As Marie McRae, one of the Dryden locals spurred to action, says in the film, “My voice by itself carries very little weight, but when I join my voice with my immediate neighbors, with the larger community, that I live in, we all together have a voice that’s loud enough for our elected officials to hear.”

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The film not only shows what happens when people band together for an important cause, but reminds us viewers that the fight is not over yet. Although Dryden’s ban remains on the books, the case is heading to New York’s highest court in spring 2014.

Only time — and the court — will determine the ultimate winner of this battle.

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