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Erie County Joins Growing Number of New York Counties Banning Fracking Waste

Daniel Raichel

Posted January 10, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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Erie County now joins the growing list of New York counties taking action to protect local residents from the health harms and potential property damage posed by the use of toxic fracking waste. Yesterday, County Executive Mark Poloncarz signed into law a county ordinance prohibiting the use of fracking wastes on county roads or their acceptance at county wastewater facilities. The law also bans fracking itself on any county-owned lands.

If you are surprised that anyone would ever think of spreading fracking waste on local roads or send it to facilities designed to treat household water, you’re not alone—so are many New York counties. It’s long been known that the wastewater produced during fracking operations contains a lot of nasty stuff—heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and radioactive materials just to name a few. But it’s the waste’s high salt content that also makes it attractive as a potential road de-icer in winter (although liquid wastes are also used as a dust suppressant in the summer). The problem is that fracking wastes (specifically “brines”), whether treated or not, can still contain many if not all of these other toxic contaminants, which in turn can be washed off the road and into local soil and groundwater by rain and snowmelt.

Sending fracking wastes to public wastewater treatment facilities is equally nutty. That’s because the biological treatment processes that these facilities use are designed to treat the water that goes down your kitchen sink, and they simply aren’t equipped to handle all of the nasty (and radioactive) stuff found in fracking waste. When fracking wastewater is sent to these facilities, it can damage these processes, preventing them from doing their real job—treating the water that we drink and bathe with.

Because Pennsylvania drillers would love to ship theses wastes wherever there is a market, you don’t need to be on top of the Marcellus to be at risk of harm from the use of fracking wastes. Accordingly, ten New York counties from all areas of the state have already banned the road spreading or treatment of fracking wastes (or both).  They are:

  • Albany – Bans spreading on all roads and lands within the county, and prohibits acceptance of fracking wastes at wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Nassau – Prohibits acceptance of fracking wastes at wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Oneida – Bans spreading on all county roads and property.
  • Orange – Bans spreading on all county roads and property.
  • Putnam – Bans spreading on county roads and privately owned real property, and bans acceptance of fracking wastes at wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Rockland – Bans spreading on all roads and lands within the county, and  prohibits acceptance of fracking wastes at wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Suffolk (see also here) – Bans spreading on all county roads and property, and prohibits acceptance of fracking wastes at wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Tompkins – Bans spreading on all county roads and property.
  • Ulster – Bans spreading on county roads or property.
  • Westchester – Bans spreading on all roads and lands within the county, and prohibits acceptance of fracking wastes at wastewater treatment facilities.

In signing the law (passed 9-2 by the county legislature) making Erie the eleventh New York county on this list, County Executive Poloncarz stated that he could not “discount the overwhelming support of such a ban by the public and members of the Legislature – Democrat, Republican, and Independent.” And this highlights a good point. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, or how you feel about fracking generally, bans like these on the use of fracking waste are just common sense.

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