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Dryden, NY: A Year at the Center of Debate Over Fracking

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Truck usage at a typical fracking site. Photo courtesy U.S.D.O.I.
Truck usage at a typical fracking site. Photo courtesy U.S.D.O.I.
August 6, 2012

DRYDEN, N.Y. - It's been one year since the town board of Dryden, a rural community near Ithaca with a population of 14,000, passed a zoning ordinance prohibiting oil and gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, so-called fracking. While they await the appeal of a lawsuit by an oil and gas company which had leased Dryden land, and wait for the state to decide its position on fracking, townspeople look back on a year in the spotlight.

Stephen Stelick, Jr., a board member who voted for the ban, was asked if people wondered why he'd take that stance, as a Republican.

"I've actually heard that, yes. My mom always told me one good thing and that's always to use common sense when you're making decisions, and this one was, in my estimation, a common-sense decision. So, it had nothing to do with politics."

Supporters of extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation include the New York Farm Bureau, which says the economic activity would bring relief to strapped agricultural areas. Governor Andrew Cuomo is reported to be fashioning a plan that would allow fracking in five southern-tier counties, but would let local communities decide yes or no.

New York Farm Bureau spokesperson Steve Ammerman says the decision should be up to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, not municipalities. And the Farm Bureau has filed a brief on behalf of the gas company suing Dryden.

"So, we also don't think that it's a fair business practice to expect a company to come in, invest millions of dollars and then just have that rug pulled out from under them, based on the changing whim of a town board."

Dryden's town supervisor, Mary Ann Sumner, bases her opposition to fracking on a variety of safety and socio-economic concerns. And she's cautiously optimistic about Governor Cuomo's reported inclination to let local communities decide.

"I'm generally thrilled that he seems to be supporting the home rule concept, but just because a municipality chooses it doesn't make it any safer."

The N.Y. Farm Bureau says it's for fracking only if crops, livestock and people aren't put in jeopardy. They say the income from leasing land would help farmers invest in new equipment, and for some farmers, even be the difference that lets them stay on the land.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY