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Can Communities Reclaim the Right to Say "No" to Corporations?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Farm Issues page, Politics and Democracy page, and our West Virginia News page.


It's no wonder that many communities want nothing to do with the natural gas drilling procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

The practice, which involves pumping chemical-laced water underground at high pressure, results in millions of gallons of frack wastewater that's been found to contain dangerous levels of radioactivity, carcinogenic chemicals, and highly corrosive salts. Last year, 16 cattle died after being exposed to the wastewater; a famous scene in the documentary Gasland shows a resident lighting his tap water on fire.

But communities trying to protect their drinking water from fracking haven't found it at all easy to do.

No Right to Self-Government?

In June, the city council of Morgantown, West Virginia--which draws its drinking water from the Monongahela River, just downstream of a new natural gas well--passed a ban on horizontal drilling and fracking within one mile of city limits. Two days later, a company seeking to drill sued Morgantown, claiming that because drilling is regulated by the state, it wasn't within the city's authority to keep fracking out.

In August, a circuit court agreed, invalidating the city's ordinance. In her decision, Judge Susan Tucker ruled that municipalities are but "creatures of the state" without jurisdiction to legislate on drilling or fracking within their borders. Tucker further wrote that "the State's interest in oil and gas development and production throughout the State...provides for the exclusive control of this area of law to be within the hands" of the state of West Virgina. The environmental concerns of the residents of Morgantown, she determined, were not relevant to her ruling.

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