While Obama has been alienating the green crowd and Middle Americans in his support of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, we New Yorkers have been dealing with some dirty-energy skirmishes of our own in the past few months.
In February, a court ruled in favor of the town board of Dryden, New York—a township near Cornell University— after they had passed a zoning law last August that prohibited drilling for natural gas there. The law runs contrary to a state regulation that would permit drilling for oil and gas reserves in New York.
Anschutz Exploration Corporation, a oil and drilling company that had already bought 22,000 acres in the town (for a whopping $5.1 million) sued Dryden immediately after they enacted the ordinance, claiming that state law should overrule the local jurisdiction, Propublica reported.
The corporation’s CEO, Phil Anschutz, was profiled in The New Yorker last January, dubbed “The Man Who Owns L.A.” One of the largest landowners in the U.S., Anschutz also owns the L.A. Galaxy and donated over a hundred million dollars to create a medical campus at the University of Colorado, in Aurora—out of his estimated worth of seven billion. Anschutz also uses a chunk of this significant capital to give to the Institute for American Values, an anti-gay organization, and Americans for Prosperity, which lobbies against climate change science and oil regulations.
It’s no surprise that residents are taking up arms against oil drilling in their town. A study this year from the Colorado School of Public Health showed that the risk of cancer was 66 percent higher for people that lived less than a half mile from oil and gas wells. Ironically, Anschutz is Colorado’s richest resident.
Hydraulic fracturing involves shooting high-pressure streams of water, sand, and toxic chemicals into the ground to get at natural gas pockets 8,000 feet below the surface. But this mixture can seep out and contaminate the groundwater, causing huge problems for the local water supply.
Dryden isn’t alone in its fight against fracking. Other towns and cities in New York have taken a similar stance, including Buffalo and Syracuse. Towns argue that they should be able to protect their own land against contamination from fracking chemicals like methanol (found in antifreeze and gas), Naphthalene (highly toxic and found in mothballs), and diesel fuel. But according to a Bush/Cheney energy bill in 2005 referred to as the Halliburton Loophole, companies don’t have to disclose the chemicals they use for natural gas drilling.
It’s not clear yet whether Anschutz will appeal the court’s ruling in favor of Dryden. But at least for now, this tiny town of 14,000 has become a model for the power of local advocacy to prevent a corporate fracking onslaught.