DRYDEN NY: How a Community Fought Fracking — and WON!

This is a case study written by Chip Northrup, posted 3/28/13 on his blog:

 

The Story of Dryden:

The Town That Fought Fracking

(And Is Winning)

An upstate New York town has been fighting to preserve its way of life in a lawsuit pitting a small town’s rights against an out-of-state oil and gas company’s wishes.

More than a hundred towns in New York have enacted local bans or moratoriums on gas drilling, including the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in which drillers blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the ground to extract gas from hard-to-reach deposits deep in the earth.

Among those municipalities is the Town of Dryden.

In September of 2011, the privately-held Anschutz Exploration Corporation, owned by Forbes-ranked Phillip Anshutz (net worth: $7.5 billion), sued the Town of Dryden (population: 14,500) in a bid to force the town to accept industrial gas drilling—including fracking—within town limits.

The company brought its lawsuit after the Dryden Town Board approved a change in its zoning ordinance, clarifying that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were “prohibited uses” of land within the town. The Dryden Town Board’s unanimous, bipartisan vote followed a petition drive and a series of public hearings, in which residents spoke out 3-to-1 in favor of the change.

This is how it all started. The Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC) was created in the spring of 2009 by Dryden residents concerned about the possible upcoming consequences that the hydraulic fracturing of gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale may bring not only to their own neighborhoods, but also to the state and region.

In 2010, DRAC members began collecting petition signatures from their fellow residents to ask the Town Board to develop an industrial noise ordinance and to make a firm statement against gas drilling. The journey to the successful passage of the ordinance involved the entire community, through information sessions, a listening project, collaborations with neighboring communities, and much more. DRAC members took their concerns and requests for protective action to the Dryden Town Board, using their citizens’ privilege time at the beginning of each meeting. They attended each monthly meeting, reiterating their concerns and reporting on progress to the Dryden Town Board and Town Supervisor.

DRAC member Hilary Lambert recounts the story of how town residents worked together to ensure their concerns would be heard, and to, ultimately, bring about the historic vote:

In Celebration of Community: The festive scene in Montgomery Park during Dryden’s 2012 Dairy Day, a community service project of the Dryden Grange. The annual gathering brings together local farmers, businesses, and organizations to celebrate the many contributions the dairy farmer makes to all of our lives.  (Austin Brecht)

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT

Norse Energy Corporation USA v. Town of Dryden was appealed after a state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dryden. Earthjustice reoresented the Town of Dryden in the appeal and presented oral arguments on March 21, 2013. The State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department rendered its decision on May 2, 2013 — unanimously supporting the constitutional principle of Home Rule.  The court made an identical decision in the case of Middlefield, NY, again upholding Home Rule and rejecting all arguments on behalf of the gas/oil industry and landowners that only the state had the right to determine the nature of local zoning ordinances.

[Hilary Lambert. Photo courtesy of Cayuga Lake Watershed Network.

VOICES OF DRYDEN

HILARY LAMBERT

A mother, grandmother and longtime science-based advocate for the environment, Dr. Hilary Lambert grew up in Dryden and remembers a childhood spent outdoors, in the woods and on the water. Today, Hilary is a member of DRAC and works to protect the ecological health of the Finger Lakes Region as executive director of a watershed protection organization.

SLIDE 15 OF 15

DRAC regularly holds and participates in various county-wide and out-of-county efforts to safeguard the region’s water, air, and soil resources and, more generally, an environment in which people, animals, and plants can live and flourish.

Photos and captions are courtesy of Hilary Lambert.

Back to the Beginning.

SLIDE 1 OF 15

During the rough winter months in early 2011, members and supporters of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC) fanned out across Dryden’s snowy, icy roads to collect signatures of residents opposed to gas drilling and fracking.

Flyers and ads were placed in local newspapers. Advice from Back to Democracy, an all-volunteer organization that promotes citizen empowerment, and local election experts ensured that signatures were authentic and correctly documented.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 2 OF 15

By spring of 2011, DRAC had collected 1,600 signatures, which they presented to the Dryden Town Board at a packed-house monthly Town Board meeting.

The message to the Board was clear: Please develop and vote in favor of a gas drilling and fracking zoning ordinance, and please do it quickly.

The pressure was on!

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 3 OF 15

By August 2011, the zoning ordinance that would prohibit oil and gas activities in the town had been developed and the work had been done to muster Town Board action.

Dryden Town Board member David Makar and Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner walk to the meeting at which they would take a vote.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 4 OF 15

Again in a packed meeting, following necessary preliminaries and reading of the beautifully-worded ordinance language by Dryden Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins, and after all the work that had gone before, the vote was quick:

“Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!”
It was a unanimous historic vote.

At front from right: Steve Stelick, Joe Solomon, Mary Ann Sumner, David Makar and Jason Leifer, recorded by Town Clerk Bambi Avery.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 5 OF 15

Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner is congratulated by DRAC members and other Dryden community residents who supported the fracking ban.

A brief recess was then called to allow for a few minutes of uproarious celebration.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 6 OF 15

Following the meeting, many stood outside to talk about the vote.

Attorney David Slottje, who had advised DRAC on how to develop a zoning ban for consideration by the Dryden Town Board, departs with a big smile.

But even in the midst of this great victory, the Town was put on notice by letters and statements from pro-frackers that someone would probably sue Dryden for taking this action.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 7 OF 15

A year before the historic vote, DRAC members were already attending, organizing and co-sponsoring numerous Dryden and Tompkins County fracking and gas drilling information events, to better educate themselves and others.

This presentation in 2010 by the Community Science Institute was one of those events. DRAC members are clustered on the left side of the room, learning along with others about potential impacts to the region’s water resources.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 8 OF 15

In late 2009 and early 2010, communities across Tompkins County and beyond were organizing to repel fracking from their borders.

Here, DRAC and ROUSE (Residents Opposing Unsafe Shale-Gas Extraction) members at the Brooktondale Community Center in the Town of Caroline, listen to fracking expert, engineer and Cornell University professor Dr. Tony Ingraffea.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 9 OF 15

DRAC members attended meetings and learned about their neighbors’ concerns and found ways to work cooperatively with them.

DRAC member Judith Pierpont (left) and Shaleshockleader Sarah Hess (right), take notes as attorney Helen Slottje (center) explains that, while New York towns may not regulate gas drilling and fracking, they may pass land-use laws that exclude these activities.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 10 OF 15

Meanwhile, across Cayuga Lake in the Town of Ulysses, the CCU (Concerned Citizens of Ulysses)were mounting a massive town-wide petition drive to demand that their town pass a ban on gas drilling and fracking, based on guidelines developed by attorneys Helen and David Slottje of CEDC Inc..

In the photo, DRAC members listen to Helen and David (left) explain the process of developing a zoning ban for consideration by the Dryden Town Board.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 11 OF 15

At the close of 2010, community groups DRAC, CCU, ROUSE, ENSAW (Enfield Neighbors for Safe Air and Water) and others met with Ulysses petition developers Michael Dineen and Jan Quarles of Back to Democracy, to learn how to mount major petition drives in their respective towns.

Attorney David Slottje (second from right) speaks to participants at a fundraising house party organized by DRAC on behalf of the Slottjes, whose pro bonowork was helping towns across New York State develop gas drilling and fracking bans and moratoria.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 12 OF 15

From the beginning, DRAC was all about informing and involving fellow Dryden residents, communicating our concerns and asking for action from our Town Board, and working with other groups in Tompkins County and beyond.

We began meeting regularly at Dryden Town Hall, and started a listserv for local residents and a blog for Dryden and the wider public. Our twice-monthly meetings were run in a non-hierarchical fashion, and we posted a brief report on the listserv after each meeting.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 13 OF 15

Several DRAC members also took part in a Listening Project in 2010, to find out what folks in Dryden thought about fracking. More than a hundred interviews were conducted through the project.

In training sessions (left), they learned how to do door-to-door visits, which would help us in our petition drives.

See the results of the Listening Project results.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 14 OF 15

DRAC continues to work to raise public awareness of issues related to gas drilling, including land leasing details and the methods and risks involved with fracking.

Left: DRAC members and friends plan their work for the coming year during a session led by 350.org co-founder Kelly Blynn in September of 2012.

Continue to next slide.

SLIDE 15 OF 15

DRAC regularly holds and participates in various county-wide and out-of-county efforts to safeguard the region’s water, air, and soil resources and, more generally, an environment in which people, animals, and plants can live and flourish.

Photos and captions are courtesy of Hilary Lambert.

Back to the Beginning.

SLIDE 1 OF 15

During the rough winter months in early 2011, members and supporters of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC) fanned out across Dryden’s snowy, icy roads to collect signatures of residents opposed to gas drilling and fracking.

Flyers and ads were placed in local newspapers. Advice from Back to Democracy, an all-volunteer organization that promotes citizen empowerment, and local election experts ensured that signatures were authentic and correctly documented.

Continue to next slide.

Fracking requires a heavy industrial buildup, complete with giant well pads containing multiple wells, miles of trucks rumbling down gravel roads, and noisy equipment that runs all night. Fracking sites, which are significant sources of volatile organic compounds, also taint local air quality by increasing ozone levels.

And then there’s the issue of water. Each fracking job requires millions of gallons of water laced with sand and toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid. Some of the chemicals in fracking fluids are known carcinogens and the health effects of many additives are not fully understood, in large part because industry officials have refused to disclose precisely what they are using.

“The people of Dryden want to preserve the special character of our town and make sure it continues to be a healthy community for generations to come,” said Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner.

“The oil and gas industry may wish it were otherwise, but municipalities have the right to determine what types of development are appropriate within their borders. We are firmly committed to defending that right.”

Map of Dryden.
The Dryden High School Sustainability Club showcases its work. (Austin Brecht)Even a brief rain shower can't diminish the cheers from the crowd, as the Dairy Princesses' float joins the parade. (Austin Brecht)

Dairy Day. (Austin Brecht)Dryden celebrates Dairy Day. The annual event brings a home day atmosphere together with a dairy theme that is entertaining, fun, educational and affordable to families. (Austin Brecht)

A New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dryden in February of 2012. The case is now being heard by an appellate court—though with a change in plaintiff. Norse Energy, the U.S. subsidiary of a Norwegian oil and gas company, has replaced Anschutz Exploration in the litigation—Norse then filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceedings the following month.

Earthjustice is representing the Town of Dryden in the appeal, a case that will determine whether localities can keep heavy industry like oil and gas development off the land within their borders.

The case is being watched closely as towns in other states like Colorado and Ohio pass fracking bans of their own and are threatened with lawsuits by the oil and gas industry. A victory in New York could provide encouragement and hope to communities around the country.

“The people of Dryden stood up to defend their way of life against the oil and gas industry. And, against stiff odds, they won,” said Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Northeast regional office and an expert on the environmental impacts of industrial gas development.

“The [lower court] ruling makes clear that local officials have the right to decide what industrial activities are appropriate within their communities.”

“The Town of Dryden has a very strong case,” said Deborah. “Two courts have ruled that localities retain their longstanding power to regulate land use, including by prohibiting industrial activities such as gas development in their communities. We’ll do everything we can to ensure this victory stands.”

Dryden celebrates Dairy Day. The annual event brings a home day atmosphere together with a dairy theme that is entertaining, fun, educational and affordable to families.  (Photos by Austin Brecht)
The Dryden High School Sustainability Club showcases its work.
Even a brief rain shower doesn’t diminish cheers from the crowd, as the Dairy Princesses’ float joins the parade.
Austin Brecht.

VOICES OF DRYDEN

AUSTIN BRECHT

These scenes from the 2012 Dairy Day were captured by Austin Brecht, then a senior at Dryden High School. Age 19 years old Years Lived in Dryden19

Occupation Undergraduate Student;

Mentor at Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture

Favorite Part of Being from Dryden Knowing that I come from a small, close-knit town

Favorite Dryden Memories The annual Dairy Day Parade; walking along the rails of Dryden Lake and fishing in the lake; going to Dryden Lake Park

A Welcome sign on Route 38 coming into Dryden from Harford. (Mary Ann Sumner)Sunset from a hilltop above Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). (Mary Ann Sumner)
Deer can be seen outside of Mary Ann's kitchen window, any day, any year. (Mary Ann Sumner)Caroline Supervisor Don Barber and his horses giving rides at the Ellis Hollow Fair in the fall of 2011. (Mary Ann Sumner)
Many farms like this on dot Dryden's landscape. (Mary Ann Sumner)Boy scouts march down Main Street towards the village square, during a Memorial Day parade in 2011. (Mary Ann Sumner)
Mary Ann Sumner

VOICES OF DRYDEN

MARY ANN SUMNER

A resident of Dryden for four decades, Mary Ann Sumner was first elected as Dryden Town Supervisor in 2007. After graduate studies at Cornell University, Mary Ann settled in Dryden, building a log home in the woods of West Dryden and raising her children with an appreciation for the natural world and their connection to it.

Scenes from Dryden.
Sunset from a hilltop above Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3).
(Photos by Mary Ann Sumner)
Deer, just outside of Mary Ann’s kitchen window, are a familiar sight throughout the year.
Caroline Town Supervisor Don Barber and his horses give rides at the Ellis Hollow Fair in the fall of 2011.
One of many of the farms that dot Dryden’s landscape.
Boy scouts march down Main Street towards the village square, during a Memorial Day parade in 2011.

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Jim and Jen Slotterback. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

VIDEO

Finding Their WayPennsylvania residents Jim and Jen Slotterback had only 11 days to save their favorite park from gas drilling—and they succeeded. Watch their story.

 

Update, Thurday, May 17, 11:28 amI spoke with the digital editor at the Press & Sun Bulletin this morning.  The full story with the reporter’s byline has now been posted: http://www.theithacajournal.com/viewart/20120511/NEWS01/120517011/EPA-Well-water-Pa-gas-drilling-town-safe (presumably the same on the the websites for Press & Sun Bulletin and Elmira Star Gazette).  He says that …

READ MORE

Anschutz Quits Dryden Suit

Anschutz is trying to assign their lawsuit against Dryden to a fracking zombie – Norse Energy. They say their loss against the Town of Dryden is not worth appealing. So they quit right before a third New York court affirmed Home Rule. In yet another twist of fracking fate, born-again-billionaire Phil Anschutz …

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Dryden Rent-a-Plaintiff DOA

The Rent-A-Plaintiff in Anschutz v Dryden , Norse Energy, a gas prospector in New York, is functionally comatose as of Q4 2012.  Which means one of two things: either frack flak Tom West has to wheel them to the appellate court on a gurney with an IV full of fracking flowback stuck …

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Updated: AP’s “update” of reporter’s story from Dimock
Anschutz Quits Dryden Suit
Dryden Rent-a-Plaintiff DOA
The Mayor’s Story
Anschutz Balks At Dryden Appeal

 

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