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Fending Off Fracking In Dryden, NY

Small farms dot the landscape around the Town of Dryden.

Small farms dot the landscape around the Town of Dryden.

Photo by Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

What's at Stake

A town in upstate New York fought to save its way of life—and won.

Earthjustice represented the Town of Dryden in a precedent-setting case that has major implications for the rest of the country as localities around the nation take heart from Dryden’s fighting spirit.

Case Overview

It all started with a billionaire fossil fuel mogul trying to run roughshod over a small town.

After the bipartisan town board in Dryden, NY (pop: 14,500) voted unanimously to clarify that oil and gas activities—including fracking—were not permitted within the town’s borders, the Anschutz Exploration Corporation, owned by Philip Anschutz (net worth: $7.5 billion), sued Dryden in an attempt to override local zoning. Earthjustice is representing Dryden in its effort to keep fossil fuel development at bay.

In February 2012, a New York State judge ruled in favor of the Town of Dryden. Anschutz appealed that decision in May 2012, but withdrew from the litigation later that year. A U.S. subsidiary of Norse Energy, a Norwegian Company, replaced Anschutz in November 2012 but filed for bankruptcy one month later. In May 2013, a four-judge intermediate appellate court ruled unanimously in favor of the Town of Dryden, its second court victory against the fossil fuel industry.

Earthjustice and the Town of Dryden then went into a third round of litigation, with the case going up to New York’s highest court, as Norse was liquidating its assets and the bankruptcy Trustee pursuing the final appeal.

On June 30, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas operations, within municipal borders. The decision gives legal backing to the more than 170 New York municipalities that have passed measures to protect residents from the impacts of the controversial oil and gas development technique. The news also gives a green light to dozens of other New York towns that have been waiting for the Court of Appeals' decision to pass their own local ban.

Case ID



Related Features

Dryden: The Town That Changed The Fracking Game

When the oil and gas industry came to the small town of Dryden, NY (population: 14,500) with plans to start fracking, things didn’t turn out quite how they expected. Find out how a group of neighbors turned the tables on a powerful industry—and changed the fracking game forever. View the photo essay.

Teleconference: Fracking And Community Control

On June 20, 2014, in advance of a decision from New York’s high court over a pair of zoning-based oil and gas development bans, experts from New York, Colorado, California, Pennsylvania and Texas hosted a teleconference on the growing trend of community control over fracking.

Case Updates

June 20, 2014 | Legal Document

New York Court of Appeals Decision

The Court ruled that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas operations, within municipal borders.

April 30, 2014 | Blog Post

Goldman Prizewinner Helen Slottje: The Secret Weapon In the Fight Against Fracking

In 2010, Helen Holden Slottje, a lawyer in upstate New York pioneered a legal strategy to keep fracking out of communities using local zoning laws. Four years later, her hard work and bravery was rewarded with the Goldman Environmental Prize, sometimes referred to as the “Green Nobel.” Read about Helen's work, and listen to an interview where she discusses how and why she became involved in the fracking fight.

January 16, 2014 | Blog Post

Towns Fight Back Against Fracking

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