New London to consider ban on fracking waste

New London — The city has been asked to become the 11th municipality in the state to ban the disposal of waste from hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, by a group of five residents concerned about harmful effects on the environment and public health that could result if the material is dumped on city roads or in the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

“A lot of people are looking for ways to protect our local communities, in light of fears about what federal environmental policy may look like,” Ronna Stuller, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and one of those who proposed the ordinance, said earlier this week.

The City Council is scheduled to take up the proposed ordinance, which is modeled after one adopted by 10 other towns around the state, at its meeting 7 p.m. Monday. The matter is expected to be referred to the council’s Public Welfare Committee.

In addition to the 10 towns that have already adopted fracking waste bans, several other towns, including Norwich, Griswold and Lebanon, are in various stages of considering adopting a ban, according to Jennifer Siskind, local coordinator for the Connecticut chapter of Food & Water Watch.

The idea for local bans, she said, originated with the environmental group Riverkeeper out of concern that highly contaminated wastewater from the fracking process would end up in rivers, streams and estuaries, she said. Byproducts made from the wastewater have been made into road de-icing products that also could pollute waterways and groundwater, she added.

Siskind noted that bans also have been enacted in New York City and 400 communities in New York state, as well as dozens of towns in New Jersey, Vermont and Massachusetts. The bans across the Northeast are a response to the expansion in Pennsylvania of fracking, in which horizontally fractured wells are drilled to extract natural gas and oil, resulting in millions of gallons of contaminated liquid waste and tons of solid wastes, she said.

Stuller said that although no fracking waste has come to New London yet, “Pennsylvania isn’t that far away."

“They will be looking for places to dispose of their waste,” she said.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said a moratorium is in place prohibiting the disposal of fracking waste in Connecticut. The moratorium is set to expire on July 1, 2018. DEEP is crafting language for a bill banning or limiting fracking waste disposal that would be proposed to take effect after that date, he said.

“We certainly understand and appreciate concerns people may have about hydraulic fracturing by-products and materials,” he said. “But there doesn’t appear to be a big chance that large volumes of fracking waste will come to Connecticut.”

Schain said protections already are in place. Waste disposal facilities are granted very specific permits for the materials they can handle, and risk losing those permits if they accept other types. Their permits obligate them to test and document the types of waste they take in, he added. In addition, he said, some types of waste can damage equipment, so operators would be hesitant to accept fracking waste. The state Department of Transportation, he said, has an established policy that would prevent use of products containing fracking waste byproducts, and “we don’t believe locals are using it, either.”

Under the ordinance proposed for New London, fracking waste would be banned on all roads, property and for any purpose, and could not be taken to the city’s wastewater treatment plant or other waste management facility. All storage, sale, disposal, treatment and handling of fracking waste also is banned. Contractors working for the city would be required to certify that they are not using any fracking waste products in the city. Violations of the ordinance would be subject to fines of $250 per day.

Stuller said her group and others around the state would welcome a comprehensive state law that bans fracking waste but wants to proactively enact local protection.

“We would certainly support any action at the statewide level,” she said, “but the response at the City Council level can be much quicker.”

j.benson@theday.com

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