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September 10, 2018 FOCUS: Green Business/Energy

Interest groups tangle over fracking waste ban ordinances

Joe DeLong, Executive Director, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities

There's a race to establish rules for how cities and towns store and process waste from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and several interest groups have taken the lead ahead of state regulators.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and a nonprofit called Food & Water Watch have come out swinging in recent weeks, accusing each other of promoting local fracking-waste bans that will be harmful in different ways.

While Connecticut lacks extractable natural gas deposits, the concern is that fracking — which involves drilling into rock with pressurized water to extract oil or gas — in other regions of the country could lead to waste products being used, dumped or treated in waste facilities here.

In short, CCM says Food & Water Watch's policy language goes too far in what it bans, which could cause problems for local road and infrastructure projects. Food & Water Watch counters that CCM doesn't go far enough, increasing the risk of fracking waste contamination that could include elevated levels of radium.

Food & Water Watch, which pushed for New York's fracking ban in 2014 and also advocates against corporate control of food and water, appears to be in the lead. It says 49 Connecticut municipalities have passed ordinances it favors. Meanwhile, CCM released its own model ordinance Aug. 23, saying it's concerned that local governments are being pressured to pass regulations they may realize later are “overly expansive.”

“If municipalities are going to enact ordinances, they should be mindful of economic development implications,” said Joe DeLong, CCM's executive director.

Local and state

The flurry of local activity comes as the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) missed a July 1 deadline set by the legislature to issue regulations regarding the storage and disposal of fracking waste. There's been a moratorium on fracking waste since 2014, which will remain in effect until DEEP issues the regulations, but Food & Water Watch argues that certain potential toxins are permitted under the current regulatory scheme. The group also worries there may be loopholes in whatever rules DEEP puts forth.

CCM has urged DEEP and the legislature to regulate fracking waste statewide, rather than leave it to 169 cities and towns. But the lobbyist for municipalities says DEEP's delay and Food & Water Watch's advocacy spurred it to act.

One key difference between the ordinances is how broadly they define waste.

CCM's ordinance prohibits the collection, receipt, storage, treatment, transfer or disposal of any waste from fracking, but allows the use of oil and gas products for road or driveway resurfacing and manufacturing processes, as long as they are approved for use by DEEP.

Food & Water Watch promotes a wider ban. For example, an ordinance passed last year in Meriden states the following: “The application of natural gas waste or oil waste, whether or not such waste has received beneficial use determination or other approval for use by DEEP or any other regulatory body, on any road or real property located within the city for any purpose is prohibited.”

That goes beyond the current state moratorium, according to Food & Water Watch, and could ban materials such as drilling muds, brine mix and other wastes that result from non-fracking oil and gas drilling.

CCM, which consulted with the construction industry and local leaders on its ordinance, says some towns are unable to obtain a qualified bidder for road projects because contractors are unable to guarantee their materials are free of banned substances.

It says the ordinances have “paralyzed many [municipalities] from performing any infrastructure improvements or road projects, effectively chilling the economic development environment for many communities.”

Food & Water Watch says that's a “dubious” claim lacking evidence.

“Towns that have passed such strict ordinances banning fracking waste have not experienced the adverse consequences,” Food & Water Watch said.

Food & Water Watch says its ordinance language is similar to what's been passed in many areas of New York, and noted that some local boards that have approved the ordinance are CCM members.

“ … If towns adopt [CCM's] ordinance, they could leave themselves open to public health problems and costly remediation,” said Jen Siskin, Food & Water Watch's local coordinator.

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