As of 2012, 2.5 million oil and gas wells have been drilled worldwide using the hydraulic fracturing method, and more than 1 million of them are located in the United States. The result of this trend has been devastating to human health and the environment. With natural gas companies pouring millions of dollars into political and PR campaigns, slowing it down has been difficult. But as one tiny town in New York demonstrated, it’s not impossible. Dryden, New York, recently won a court case to prevent the fracking industry from destroying its air and water, an encouraging development for cities and states fighting similar battles.

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Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, isn’t a new technique for extracting natural gas from the ground. What’s new is the voraciousness with which the natural gas industry has embraced it. As of 2010, it was estimated that 60 percent of all new oil and gas wells worldwide were being hydraulically fractured.

Tucked away in in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Dryden is a rural town with a population of just 14,500. In its entirety, the town takes up only 94 square miles. When it comes to fighting the overwhelming influence of the natural gas industry, Dryden seems an unlikely candidate. Despite its tiny size and sleepy nature, the residents have proven Margaret Mead’s assertion that “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

In 2008, new information about the dangers of fracking prompted New York to impose a statewide moratorium on fracking. Not entirely confident that government officials would arrive at the correct conclusion, many small towns throughout the state decided to take matters into their own hands. In August 2011, the citizens of Dryden united against the practice and became one of the first towns in New York to ban fracking.

You’d think that a town of less than 15,000 would hardly be a blip on Big Gas’ radar, but the fracking industry could see what an important precedent had been set. They promptly filed a lawsuit against the town, thrusting Dryden into a national debate and legal battle that would last for years.

Last week, after a spending a year and a half in court fighting to protect its ban, Dryden became the first town in the state to prevail over the gas industry, reports Mother Jones. “Last Thursday, the four judges on for the appellate court in New York’s Third Judicial Department unanimously agreed that state law ‘does not preempt, either expressly or impliedly, a municipality’s power to enact a local zoning ordinance banning all activities related to the exploration for, and the production or storage of, natural gas and petroleum within its borders,'” writes Kate Sheppard.

This ruling is of immense importance to places like Colorado, Ohio, California, and other states where the gas industry and allied politicians have basically told residents they have no right to refuse fracking lease offers. We salute you Dryden, and hope that your story of victory will soon become just one of many.

via Mother Jones

Images via Dougtone and Marcellus Protest