The town of Dryden, N.Y., has banned fracking, the controversial practice of shooting high-pressure toxic chemicals and water underground to release natural gas. The anti-fracking ordinance was immediately challenged by an irate gas-drilling corporation, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, which is taking the town of 13,000 to the State Supreme Court.
Across the country other towns frustrated by the failure of federal and state authorities to regulate fracking are acting to protect property rights, public health and local economies. Dozens of municipalities across the country have banned or curtailed fracking, while fracking companies have responded to this local revolt by threatening litigation intended to bankrupt and break the will of towns standing in their way.
Communities are not relenting, because stakes are high. Fracked wells that leak pollute drinking water. Radioactive frack wastewater, stored in open pools, pollutes the air and groundwater, and overwhelms sewage treatment plants. Tank trucks that transport the millions of gallons of freshwater needed for fracking clog and ruin scenic country roads. Fracking industrialization hurts rural economies dependent on tourism.
Unfortunately, defending communities from fracking is an uphill battle. Under the Bush administration, Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Those in drilling communities are quickly morphing into an environmental movement in direct counterpoint to Congressional Republican efforts to shut down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
As a result, towns often stand alone to protect citizens’ rights, ranging from corporate threats such as the Keystone XL pipeline in Atkinson, Neb.; mountaintop removal in Stephens, W.V.; the pollution of drinking water by agribusiness in Seville, Calif.; and the depletion of aquifers by bottled water companies in Newfield, Maine.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized corporations as super-citizens—backed by wealth and political influence—municipalities have no choice but to sound the battle cry and expend limited resources to prevent corporate bullying.
This is their established right! Towns pass ordinances to keep dogs on leashes to prevent them from defecating in your front yard. It is no different—and more imperative—to require the leashing of aggressive corporations who pose a greater threat to private property, public health, local economies and our American way of life.
Glenn Scherer is the senior editor of Blue Ridge Press. He lives in Vermont.