State seeking more control of fracking waste

An effort has begun on three separate fronts to give the state more control over waste products from hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," that gas exploration companies may want to transport, dispose of or process in Connecticut.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in the list of legislation it recommends be taken up when the General Assembly session convenes Wednesday, is seeking to have fracking waste considered hazardous waste and subject to the same labeling, permitting and handling requirements as other hazardous waste, DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said last week. Current state law, he said, mirrors federal law, which does not consider waste materials from oil and gas exploration to be hazardous waste.

Schain said there are three or four facilities, all in the western half of the state, that could potentially accept fracking waste, depending on the type, how it is shipped, and other factors. But no fracking waste has come into the state as of yet, and there are no pending proposals, he said.

DEEP and environmental groups, however, are looking to establish regulations ahead of any future requests, said Louis Burch, Connecticut program coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale deposits in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia produces large amounts of contaminated water and other waste products polluted with the chemicals, radioactive materials and other toxic substances, and exploration companies are seeking disposal sites, Burch said. Other states including Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey have passed or are in the process of adopting regulations to prevent or restrict fracking waste from coming into their states, increasing the risk that Connecticut could end up being a disposal site if it leaves it unregulated, he said. In other states, gas exploration companies have sought to dispose of waste in landfills, industrial or public wastewater treatment plants or directly into storm drains.

"We're very concerned about the lack of oversight," he said. In addition to seeking disposal sites for fracking waste, gas exploration companies are also trying to market some of the waste products for road treatment.

On Tuesday, Burch's group and seven other environmental organizations announced the formation the Connecticut Fracking Waste Ban Coalition and a website, wastefreect.org. It launched a campaign through radio ads and social media calling for a total ban on fracking waste coming into Connecticut. Other groups in the coalition are: Connecticut Families Against Chemical Trespass, Environment Connecticut, Environment and Human Health, Food & Water Watch, Grassroots Environmental Education, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, the Watershed Partnership and the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club.

"We're trying to wake people up to this issue," Burch said. "We support an all-out ban on the storage, disposal, treatment and recycling of hazardous waste fracking products in Connecticut, to protect Connecticut water resources from being contaminated."

A third initiative to address fracking waste is coming from the state Council on Environmental Quality, a watchdog agency. Among its list of recommendations for legislation the coming session is a measure that would protect the state from the "harmful effects of imported waste products generated by hydraulic fracturing (fracking)." CEQ notes that current state law contains "gaps and uncertainties" that leave the state exposed to hazardous fracking waste.

Schain noted that the state's energy policy calls for expanding availability of natural gas, which has increased in supply and decreased in cost in recent years due to fracking technology, but that DEEP also advocates "strong regulations" on the processes used in extraction.

j.benson@theday.com

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