I grew up in the tiny hamlet of Apalachin, in Tioga County in Upstate New York. I could ride my bicycle up Pennsylvania Avenue to cross the border and the Finger Lakes were just a short drive north and a frequent destination for family picnics in the summer months. Our house was on a hillside overlooking the Susquehanna river, seen in the image below.
Apalachin's only claim to fame is the notorious meeting of about 100 Mafia leaders that took place there in 1957, before I was born, at the home of Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara. The meeting, held for the purpose of dividing up the criminal enterprises controlled by recently murdered boss Albert Anastasia, was busted up by the New York State Police and resulted in a number of arrests. There's a depiction of the Apalachin bust at the beginning of the Billy Crystal & Robert De Niro movie "Analyze This".
Life carried me away from Apalachin over 35 years ago, first to Texas and later to Illinois where I am today, and I haven't ever been back. But I still feel a powerful, visceral connection to this beautiful spot in the world. It was an idyllic place for a boy to grow up. I wandered the hills near my home winter and summer, fished in the Susquehanna and in nearby ponds, never catching much, and searched for crawfish in the creeks. I camped with the Boy Scouts with the woods even when the snow was deep on the ground, picked wild raspberries in the summer and apples and wintergreen in autumn. There was a dairy farm across the street from our house and the air was often fragrant with newly laid manure. We played hide and seek amidst the farmer's corn crop or in fields of tall dewy mikweed when there was no corn. Those same fields, on gently rising hills, were our sled & toboggan run in the wintertime. We could travel nearly a mile down hill but had to take care not to get tangled in the farmer's barbed wire at the bottom. It was beautiful country and I knew it intimately and loved it deeply.
About 40 miles north of Apalachin, in adjacent Tompkins County, near Ithaca at the foot of scenic but frigid Cayuga lake, is another small town, Dryden, that I remember visiting as a boy. Surrounded by the same beautiful countryside, Dryden is an old town first settled at the end of the 18th century. The town was named for the 17th Century English poet and playwright, John Dryden, translator of Virgil and of Plutarch's Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans.
Dryden has been in the news of late because of a fight between the fracking industry and town residents who wanted desperately to protect the land they love from the ravages of drilling.
Dryden sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a sedimentary rock formation that spans much of southern New York State (including my beloved Apalachin) and northern Pennsylvania.
Trapped within the shale rock is the largest source of natural gas in the United States. Getting that gas out for use as a source of energy has been made possible by the technique of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking". Fracking involves drilling into the shale formation and injecting fracking fluids under pressure in to the rock to break it up and release the trapped gas.
Fracking has the potential of being quite lucrative for the energy companies involved, and to some degree to the landowners as well. And it is being touted as the best means for making our country energy-independent. But fracking is also fraught with hazards. Fracking uses vast quantities of fresh water at a time when we have serious concerns about maintaining sufficient supplies for human populations. And the fluids used in fracking contain toxic substances that have the potential to contaminate our groundwater. The exact composition of fracking fluids are generally kept secret from the public. Fracking mars the landscape, disrupts communities with intinerant workers & heavy traffic, and has been linked to frequent earthquakes in areas where quakes have been rare events.
Faced with an onslaught of fracking companies using high-pressure tactics to obtain rights to drill and fearing the adverse consequences of fracking, many communities, including Dryden, have voted to institute bans on fracking. After instituting its ban, Dryden was sued by a fracking company, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, in an attempt to overturn it. The town won the first two rounds of litigation and is now in the midst of a third, supported by the environmental law NGO EarthJustice.
EarthJustice produced this beautiful mini-documentary about the town's struggle. It touched me, because of my personal connection to this place, and enrages me because of the ruthlessness of these energy companies, who are often abetted by corrupt government officials. I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch it. Hopefully, Dryden and other small communities like it will prevail in their struggle. I am pessimistic, however, because the forces arrayed against them are strong and the amounts of money involved are large.