How two small New York towns have shaken up the national fight over fracking

The multibillion-dollar Anschutz Exploration Corp., which helped make its founder, Philip Anschutz, one of the richest men in America, filed a lawsuit three years ago against Dryden, a small town in Upstate New York.

The issue: Dryden was sitting on top of some of the best shale gas prospects in the country, and Denver-based Anschutz had bought a substantial number of leases giving it the right to drill there. But in August of that year, Dryden — like many towns seeking to restrain the rush to drill for shale oil or gas — had banned the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling known as fracking. It did this by adopting new language for its zoning laws and by citing road-use regulations, noise limits and the need to protect 31 “critical environmental areas.”

This week, in a landmark decision closely watched by industry and local governments across the country, Dryden won. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Dryden and another town, Middlefield, which had been sued separately over similar local ordinances.

While it applies to local governments across the state, the court’s 5-to-2 decision in favor of “home rule” by towns and counties will reverberate nationally as many other local governments fight to slow what has become a massive national shift toward natural gas production.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission