The Client

Earthjustice, an environmental nonprofit law firm, fights to protect the environment, advocate for clean energy and combat climate change. Earthjustice partners with many smaller organizations to assist them in their legal battles against environmentally harmful companies and practices. In this instance, Earthjustice partnered with the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition, a group of community activists who worked to ban fracking in the town of Dryden, New York.

The Opportunity

Dryden’s story began in 2009, after residents pressured by oil and gas company representatives to lease their land for gas development learned more about fracking, the technique companies planned to use to extract the gas. Residents organized and educated for more than two years under the banner of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), ultimately convincing the town board to amend its zoning ordinance in August 2011 to clarify that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were prohibited.

Just six weeks after the town board passed the measure in a unanimous bipartisan vote, Anschutz Exploration Corporation (a privately held company owned by a Forbes-ranked billionaire) sued the town. Dryden argued that its right to make local land use decisions, enshrined in the home rule provision of the New York State Constitution, applies to oil and gas development. In February 2012, a state trial court judge agreed. In May 2013, a panel of judges in a mid-level, appeals court unanimously sided with the town yet again and the case made its way to the New York Court of Appeals in 2014.

The Strategy

Our team worked with Earthjustice and DRAC to elevate the fight of local community activists in a small upstate New York town to a national “David and Goliath” story against big oil.

On June 30, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield could use the local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas operations. The decision gave 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 team spread the news of this victory nationwide and emphasized the significance of this decision for other communities attempting to ban fracking in Colorado, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The Results

As a result of the messaging strategy and outreach, a small New York town’s fight against fracking became a national story and a unique example of how zoning ordinances could be used to ban fracking in cities and towns nationwide.

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