Fracking the First Amendment


It’s one thing for Big Oil frackers to bust into our Earth, our communities and our economic well-being — but the fracking fad is also busting the free speech rights of locals who dare to speak out against it.

Welcome to Sanford, N.Y., a pleasant place of 2,800 citizens on the New York-Pennsylvania border. Unfortunately, the pleasantness has been interrupted by a major squabble over whether corporate drillers should be allowed to extract natural gas by fracturing the huge Marcellus Shale formation that underlies the region. Hydraulic fracturing is rampant on the Pennsylvania side, but New York imposed a moratorium on the inherently dangerous process in order to assess the health and safety issues involved.

However, as OnEarth magazine reports, Sanford’s town board is eager to allow oil and gas outfits to frack away — the board even leased land to one corporation that wants to drill inside the town. But last fall, Sanford officials went further, imperiously imposing a gag order on their own citizens. It seems that opponents of the profiteering rush were using the board’s public comment session to, well, to comment publicly. Irritated, the board decreed that any topic could be discussed at its meetings — except fracking.

They rationalized this autocratic restriction on people’s democratic rights by saying that the ongoing discussion on whether to frack or not got in the way of other board business. But, gosh, that’s the way it is in a democracy — the people themselves can dare to set the agenda by insisting on discussing the Big Issues that matter most to their families and communities.

The gagged townspeople have now sued the Sanford board for fracking their free speech rights and making a mockery of democracy. For more information, contact Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy:


This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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