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Senate backs moratorium on fracking waste in state

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published May 06. 2014 4:00AM

Hartford — The state Senate endorsed a bill Monday night that would place at least a three-year moratorium on the collection, storage or disposal of waste products from fracking and require the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to determine how to regulate fracking waste products. After more than three hours of debate Senate bill 237 was placed on the Senate's consent calendar, which means it has bipartisan support and will likely pass. By 9:30 p.m. the Senate had not yet voted on the consent calendar.

"This bill is before us today because we want to be ready to protect our citizens," said state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford.

Fracking or "hydraulic fracturing," is the process of pumping chemicals and water at high pressure into the ground to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas and petroleum. The federal government doesn't regulate the potentially dangerous waste products from fracking, which means it is up to individual states to do so.

There isn't shale rock in Connecticut, but proponents of the bill said they feared Connecticut companies would get into the business of processing other states' "toxic" fracking waste. Opponents said the bill was premature because states that allow fracking for natural gas aren't near Connecticut and that the waste products aren't easy to transport.

"I am not calling into question at all that somewhere along the line there have been some nightmares on this topic," said state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury. … "Yes, we should be prepared for an onslaught of fracking waste coming to New England, but if you look at other parts of the country that are already in this business they don't travel that far with their waste and the Marcellus shale is not in Connecticut."

The nearest state that permits fracking is Pennsylvania, Meyer said. And many experts have said that Pennsylvania is too far away to feasibly send fracking waste to Connecticut, he said.

However, New York is considering lifting its fracking ban and could send waste to Connecticut, Meyer said.

Fracking waste has been found to contaminate drinking water, contain radioactive materials, which could cause cancer, and cause babies of mothers who live near fracking sites to have lower birth weights, Meyer said.

"When fracturing waste or any of its byproducts have been used these waste materials have filtered actually into waste streams and have contaminated drinking water and that has led in Pennsylvania to a number of lawsuits, the lawyers are happy with that, but that is perhaps the most significant danger," Meyer said.

Earlier in the legislative session there was a bill to completely ban fracking waste and another bill that would have created a two-year moratorium. The compromise bill lengthened the moratorium and specifically banned, until DEEP creates regulations, a known fracking byproduct that is used for de-icing roads. The de-icing product has been said to trickle through the ground and contaminate watersheds. The legislation would also allow up to three people, with the DEEP commissioner's approval, to obtain a limited amount of fracking waste in order to study whether the material could be treated for reuse. The DEEP rules must be designed no earlier than July 1, 2017, and no later than July 1, 2018.

Opponents also said bill would also be contradictory to Connecticut's energy strategy, which aims to expand access to cheap natural gas in Connecticut.

"We get the good, but they get the bad," said state Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton.

Even if Connecticut increases how much natural gas it uses, Meyer said that it shouldn't have the responsibility of cleaning up the waste because Connecticut doesn't have its own shale reserves.

Another argument against the bill was that Connecticut should wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finish a lengthy report about hydraulic fracturing waste. Meyer said DEEP and the legislature would take the results of the federal report into account but that the Environment Committee had heard enough about the harms of the waste products to advocate for the moratorium.

In the end the bill had bipartisan support.

"We can't look at fracking and say we don't want it because it's bad," said state Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven. "We need to look at it and say we don't want it, we don't like it, this is the quantifiable problem. But if we use oil here are the problems, let's quantify that, if we use nuclear, here's the problem, let's quantify that. I hate to say it; we do have to pick our poison."

Early in the debate about fracking, the Senate spent more than three hours recognizing Meyer and state Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, for their service. Each senator is not seeking re-election in November. Meyer was honored for his humorous tie selection, passion for the environment and "contagious smile." Welch has served for nearly two year and was recognized for his leadership, "intellectual caliber" and decision to leave the Senate in order to raise and home school his seven children.

Four other senators will not be seeking re-election in November - Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, John McKinney, R-Fairfield, and Gary Lebeau, D-Broad Brook. Each will be recognized before the end of the legislative session.

j.somers@theday.com

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