Comprehensive local bans on use of fracking waste needed

January 29, 2019

Homeowners, and indeed all local property owners, have to pressure local authorities to put protections in place against the use, here, of “extreme” drilling waste being produced just to the west of us in New York and Pennsylvania.

New drilling technologies, which, out of necessity, go very deep into the earth, and use all kinds of toxic chemicals to facilitate production, are also producing vast amounts of waste water and fill in the pursuit of oil and natural gas. The drilling companies, out of operational desperation, have sought to market (i.e. rid themselves) of this waste. Said waste is frequently full of heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and radioactivity, but is attractive to municipalities and contractors in the Northeast as a cheap alternative to the more reliable and safer materials.

In defending against this threat, counties and municipalities (as opposed to states) have taken the lead, in New York and Connecticut, in defending against this threat. A comprehensive ban, that includes toxic waste from all phases of the extreme drilling (not just the fracturing) and that prohibits use of such waste in road treatment and construction has been in place in nearby Westchester and Putnam for several years.

In Connecticut, almost 50 towns have passed similar, effective ordinances. In the area, Redding has passed such a quality law. Recently, unfortunately, nearby Bethel appears to have succumbed, at the last moment, to special interests and was able to pass a watered-down ban only. This version, which was put in place against overwhelming public support for the more complete version, narrowed the definition of drilling waste (by disingenuously omitting most of the extraction process) and, critically, allowed “incidental” use of the toxic waste materials in roadwork —including de-icing and pretreatment — and “other construction and/or manufacturing processes.”

Ridgefield recently succeeded in passing an effectively comprehensive ban. Those who demanded a vote on a full ordinance there were cognizant of the history of the use of the toxic drilling materials in industrially blithe Pennsylvania. The state there actually revoked permits for municipalities to use the extreme drilling waste materials after high levels of radioactive radium were found on roads treated with the stuff. Radium, found in high amounts in the waste, takes hundreds of years to break down — and then it is only slightly better lead.

The extreme drilling waste water, or “brine,” originating in very deep, old, and high pressure areas in the earth, contains naturally occurring toxins and, also, often undisclosed chemical toxins used or engendered by the drillers in the fracking, drilling, and storage processes. Once self-drained off the roads and into the local watersheds, this poison will be extremely expensive to remove (if removal is possible at all). If aquifers are affected, private wells and of course property values will be adversely affected, to say the least. To paraphrase former Redding resident Mary Ann Guitar: Local home and general property owners, through their land investments, have an “environmental equity” in their towns’ respective natural resources.

This equity needs to be asserted, now, in bringing about the comprehensive ordinance/ban necessary to protect the natural resource of water from this invasive and totally unnecessary pollution. Let’s get the full protection that has worked so well in New York and other Connecticut communities in all the area towns (including the Hat City itself).

Be advised that the discussed effective, “full,” ordinance absolutely does not prohibit use of asphalt and does not increase a town’s liability in the matter of extreme drilling waste, but actually decreases it — in support of projected, and actual, future fiscal health.

James Root is a resident of Danbury.

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