By Ellen Cantarow, May 9 2013. Source: Truthout
On Thursday, May 2, New York State’s Appellate Court upheld the right of two townships - the Tompkins County town of Dryden and the Otsego County town of Middlefield - to use their zoning laws to ban gas drilling. This includes high-volume hydraulic fracturing, during which millions of gallons of sand-and-chemical-laced water are propelled into deep shale rock to force out the methane it contains. Last week’s decision defeated corporate challenges to the state’s constitutional home rule provision, under which local ordinances trump state laws.
If you haven’t been following New York State’s astonishing grassroots battle against fracking, the foregoing may seem humdrum. But in fact it represents a victory wrenched by unknown grassroots activists from giants of the fossil-fuel industry. While the corporations defeated in last week’s judgment are only two in number, the entire industry has had its eyes on New York State, which has become the epicenter of an international struggle against unconventional gas. (By “unconventional gas” I mean not only the drilling method, but the vast infrastructure that is metastasizing from hundreds of thousands of fracking wells into America’s rural countrysides.)
For decades, the mightiest industries in corporate history have lusted for the methane in the Marcellus Shale, the huge rocky sprawl that ripples far beneath New York and three contiguous East Coast states. Unlike Pennsylvania, where drilling began as early as 2005, New York passed a moratorium on fracking in 2009 (it holds to date). Under that umbrella, tiny groups of organizers in Otsego County, about 80 miles southeast of Syracuse on Otsego Lake, and Dryden, 100 miles west of Otsego near Ithaca, began eyeing zoning as a way of banning gas drilling. Even if the moratorium were lifted, bans on drilling within townships could halt the industry at the grass roots.