For those of you who have been following this blog for awhile, we’ve got an important update to a story we’ve been following.
We’ve told the personal story of Helen Slottje, the New York attorney who has dedicated her life to helping small New York towns ban oil and gas drilling. She started with a single small town, and has taught 170 different New York towns to declare moratoriums. We’ve also posted a powerful 11-minute video about the town of Dryden, New York, The Town that Changed the Fracking Game. If you haven’t watched it yet, you probably should.
Today we have an important update. The Dryden story wasn’t complete, because the Oil and Gas Industry took the ban to the New York Supreme Court. Yesterday the Court ruled that New York cities and towns can block hydraulic fracturing within their borders.
By a 5-2 vote, the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of lawsuits challenging bans in the upstate towns of Dryden and Middlefield. The towns engaged in a “reasonable exercise” of zoning authority when they banned oil and gas extraction and production, Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote.
The towns were within their rights to find that drilling “would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately cultivated small-town character of their communities,” she said.
It’s the legal end of the line for the oil and gas industry, which had hoped to overturn the bans and resume drilling. The ruling may lead the industry to abandon New York as Governor Cuomo decides whether to lift a statewide moratorium that has stood since 2008.
The ruling does not directly affect Montana, where cities and counties do not have “home rule,” the power of a local city or county to set up its own system of self-government without receiving a charter from the state.
A lesson for Montanans
There is a lesson here for Montanans nonetheless. Small towns in New York have been successful in fighting the Oil and Gas Industry to preserve their way of life. While there do not appear to be legal avenues to moratoriums in Montana, there are laws on the books in which local communities can alter the balance of power with oil companies. These laws can protect water, property rights, and preserve the way of life that has been built over many years.
Note Judge Graffeo’s language: “drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the small-town character of their communities.” This is what is worth fighting for. If drilling is going to happen, the nature of small town life should not be sacrificed as a result.
If you watch the video, you can see the kind of community resolve that made it happen. The same kind of commitment can make it happen here too if you get involved, get educated, and take action.
You can read yesterday’s New York Decision here.