Notes from the Old Noank Jail: The dangers of fracking waste disposal

An educational seminar on fracking waste disposal was given by Jen Siskind, a local coordinator for Food and Water Watch, at a community meeting in the Noank Baptist Church on Oct. 23.

She was introduced by Terri Eichel, representing the Inter-Religious EcoJustice Network, to a gathering of local Groton citizens and residents from the surrounding area. Not surprisingly, there were a great many questions and concerns raised by the audience,and with good reason.

Fracking, a short term for hydraulic fracturing, is a process whereby water, sand and chemicals are pumped as “fracking fluids” underground at high pressure to break up shale rock and allow the resulting gas or oil to flow into a well and be brought to the surface. Most of the fracking fluids themselves also flow back up; these are contaminated with dangerous chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive materials, including radium-226, which has a lifespan of 4,000 years.

Huge amounts of toxic, radioactive waste currently is being produced in Pennsylvania to be shipped out to at least eight other states. Because the process has been a boon to the oil and gas industry, naturally there is money involved for independent companies to “store” these waste byproducts, which in turn becomes profitable as fees for the states and towns themselves.

Currently there are already three such facilities in Connecticut, including Bristol, Meriden and Bridgeport (where there have been several safety related violations). This financial benefit might be a possible factor in explaining why Connecticut has failed to pass restrictive legislation on such activity three times in the past five years. And while there is currently a temporary moratorium on any further changes in Connecticut, nevertheless there are loopholes that could bypass some existing restrictions.

Other dangers involving fracking waste include the pollution of drinking water and air itself. Carcinogens in the fluids include naphthalene, benzene and acrylamide while other toxins affecting nervous systems include toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes.

Additional contaminants include arsenic, lead, chromium, barium and strontium. And an accidental mixture of bromide with chlorine is extremely toxic if not explosive.

As to past “publicity” on some of these problems, some of us might recall the film “Erin Brockovich” starring Julia Roberts which dealt with underground pollution of local well water.

It may come to pass that the state will eventually pass HB 6329 to help control this problem statewide, but there are no immediate guarantees. However, over 25 towns and cities, including New London, have passed their own bans on fracking waste storage. It was certainly clear to those of us at the church meeting that the Town of Groton and other neighboring towns should do the same as soon as possible; contacting town officials directly was strongly recommended.

This short article does not do justice to the dangers involved with fracking. And the problem goes far beyond the philosophy of “not in my back yard.” The long range solution is obvious; we need to transition off of fossil fuels, with a target date of 2035.

Further, more detailed, information on these subjects can be obtained at foodandwaterwatch.org and fwaction.us/OffActPetition, or by emailing jsiskind@fwwlocal.org.

Ed Johnson lives in Noank.

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