The anti-fracking movement in the United States is gaining in strength and numbers. In New York State, 21 towns have declared bans; a further 40 have declared moratoria; 35 have movements for a ban or a moratorium (see here for an interactive map).
Dozens of municipalities have adopted zoning ordinances that remove natural gas exploration and extraction from the list of permissible land uses within their borders.
Numerous citizen-led organisations – such as Sustainable Otsego, Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy, Gas-Free Seneca, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper (and many more) – have led the fights against the hydraulic fracturing industry.
Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College, termed the movement “the biggest since abolition and women’s rights in New York.”
And in local elections last November, scores of anti-fracking candidates, many of whom had never before run for office, displaced pro-gas incumbents in positions as town councilors, town supervisors and county legislators.
The movement centres on legal moves to give municipalities the power to prevent the gas industry operating within a town’s jurisdiction. In the small town of Ulysses, for example, councillors were opposed to fracking, but couldn’t see how to prevent it. Activists, however, recognised that if enough registered Ulysses voters signed a petition, the board would have the popular backing it needed for declaring a ban.
A six-month-long door-to-door campaign followed, and when 1,500 out of 3,000 registered voters signed the town council voted to ban fracking.
The movement centres on unpaid volunteers, sometimes putting in thousands of hours, to oppose the fracking industry. On the other side, billion-dollar corporations flood the airwaves with pro-gas ads.
The industry has not had things all its own way, however. When New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation issued new draft guidelines for the industry, they received 40,000 objections. Agency officials had told the New York Times they didn’t know of any other issue that had received 1,000 submissions. Anti-drilling submissions outnumber those of drilling supporters by at least ten to one. A meeting to implement the guidelines was cancelled when thousands of activists rallied outside the building.