A Small Town Just Came Up With A Surprisingly Simple Way To Stop Fracking Dead In Its Tracks

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Imagine: Someone comes to your home and tells you that the place is now theirs and there’s nothing you can do. That’s what happened to the people in this little mountain town. Little by little, depressed neighbor reached out to depressed neighbor. And when two local lawyers had an “aha!” moment — at 4:51 in the video — it seemed like there might be something they could do after all. But first they had to convince their town board. Watch the climactic vote at 7:52.

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That's his itchy spot. I never get tired of looking at this valley. It took me about 10 years to stop having that hair raise on my arm when I came over the hill and, you know, would catch site of the farm. It's just so gorgeous, and this is what we'd lose of course.

There was somebody here who wanted to talk to us about leasing the land for gas drilling. I just said, "Nope, not interested. Tell him to go away." Then he started writing us letters and calling on the phone and showing up at the door. He said, "Look, I know that you've been telling me to go away, but I need you to know that of your neighbors have signed and all the land around you is leased. So whether you sign the lease or not, we will come in here and take the gas." And so I did, I signed their lease. It took me another six months to find out what I had done.
What had you done?

I had, oh . . .

Dryden, New York, where Maria McRae lives, sits atop an oil and gas deposit that stretches from New York to Alabama. The company that leased her land planned to drill it with a process known as "hydraulic fracturing" or "fracking." A process that currently driving a drilling boom all across America. While fracking produces profit for some, Maria learned that it also produces pollution, industrial explosions, earthquakes, and changed communities. She also learned that she wasn't the only person being approached.

This property became available we came across it and it was prefect. It was right where we wanted it to be. Perfect place for us to build a home.

When I was citing to build our house a young gentleman came up to me in the field. And he came to me in a very friendly manner and I said, "How can I help you?" and he said, "I'm going to make your day," and I knew at that point that if he was talking to me he was most certainly talking to my neighbors. So when I met Maria McRae at a meeting she took me aside and said, "Did you know that beautiful home that you're building is now in the midst of a gas development zone?" And I said, "I don't really know what that means, but I'm sure you're going to teach me."

There were people who were organizing educational forums for the public where I learned about high volume hydraulic fracturing. Every little bit of information that I got was worse than what I had known before.

We started working together I would say at least two or three times a week in the early days and deciding, well what are we going to do? What can we do? And what are our options because the industry kept telling us, "We have the power, you have none. We are coming, get out of the way or leave."

And we were like deer in the headlights we didn't know what to do, we don't know what to do, by telling us we don't have a choice. And here comes two attorneys, New Yorkers, who said, "You most certainly do have a choice, but you have to act very quickly."

There was this general perception that fracking was coming, there was nothing you could do, there was this oncoming train wreck, you knew it was going to be a train wreck, and you couldn't even get out of the way. From our background, having been corporate lawyers, our thinking was there has to be something you can do. You don't keep the job as a corporate lawyer telling your clients, "No, you can't do something." Like, you find a way for them to do what they want to do.

So we starting looking at the cycle, so what can you do? You can't regulate the industry so what's a regulation? As we looked and starting researching this idea of what's a regulation it became clear in New York that a land use prohibition was not considered to be a regulation of an industry. So we were like, "Well, it looks like you could prohibit this" which was an "emperor has no clothes " moment. It was like, "Well, we can't regulate it, but we can say no?" Like, that's pretty good, we'll take that, but nobody had said that. All the other big national groups that said, "No, that wasn't what it meant." The land man said, "No, that wasn't what it meant." cooperative extensions said, "No, that wasn't what it meant." And we were two lawyers from Ithaca, we were like, "Well we disagree with everyone."

It was sort of like this little glimmer of hope that came out. It's like, wow so there might be something we can do at a local level? So that glimmer of hope really brought this team together and we said, "Okay, how do we do this?" And we met with David and Helen and they said, "You know they're doing the same thing in a neighboring town, Ulysses. And they are doing it with a petition drive, so start a petition drive."

We went door to door talking to our neighbors. Talking to people we never met.

And then we have folks at our team like Martha Furger [SP] who's 88 years old and she knows everybody. What she did was sit at her table, with a phone, and called everybody she knew and told them they had to come to her house and sign this petition. And it's amazing she got the most number of signatures. We sort of made it a challenge as well and Joe Wilson did this. Every evening Joe would send an email, "I got this many signatures today. How many did you get?"

On the night that we announced it to the town board, we were able to walk into that town board meeting with a stack of petitions.

We had something to give them that they could see that we meant business and so did everybody that signed that.

Knowledge is king and we certainly received a lot of knowledge when it came to that issue.

There was only 1,300 people in Dryden so 1 in 10 people in Dryden signed that petition? It was, it was pretty amazing.

And there were enough signatures to win an election. And that's what made out board pay attention.

I'm a Republican. I was born Republican and I will continue to be a Republican that represents the people, the town of Dryden, that's not a party.

I am a loyal Democrat. I'm a proud Democrat. I represent everyone in town not just the people who voted for me.

After receiving the petition, holding a public comment period, and debating through hours of meetings, the board scheduled a vote to decide whether or not the town would allow fracking.

I think each board member would say that they really did not absolutely make up their minds until that night.

And right up until the day that we were there at that meeting, we were not 100% sure we had unanimous votes.

When a vote is called, each town board member has to respond individually down the line and each one of them said . . .

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

. . . yes, yes, we will ban this. My voice by itself carries very little weight, but when I joined my voice with my immediate neighbors with the larger community that I live in we all together have a voice that's load enough for our elective officials to hear.

Every community across this nation can do exactly what Dryden did. You have to care about each other. That is the American dream, right? Yeah, that's the American dream. You count on your neighbor.

More than 170 communities in New York have joined Dryden and passed bans or moratoriums on fracking. Communities in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, and California have also taken action. Six weeks after Dryden's vote a billionaire-owned company sued to overturn the ban. Dryden leaders came to Earth Justice for legal representation. With the help of Earth Justice attorneys Dryden has won two rounds in court. Its ban remains on the books. The case heads to New York's highest courts in the Spring of 2014. If Dryden wins it will set a statewide precedent and bolster efforts in communities across the country. To learn more, visit earthjustice.org.

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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This video was made by Earth Justice and tells the exciting story of Dryden, New York, in its battle against fracking.

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