2013-10-02 / Civics and Politics

Town Board Says ‘No Way’ to Fracking Waste

By Annie Chesnut

The Town of Philipstown held a brisk series of six public hearings last Wednesday night, followed by a Town Board workshop. The hearings, which began at 7:30 and convened every ten minutes after that, covered a range of law revisions which were broadly characterized as technical in nature—“tweaking” language to better reflect what is actually going on.

But one in particular— “Chapter 104, Adding a New Chapter in Relation to the Sale, Application and Disposal of Waste Associated with Natural Gas Exploration and Extraction Activities,” elicited a flurry of statements in support, coupled with some lengthy explanations about why the proposal was a good idea in the presenters’ opinions.

Philipstown councilors are no strangers to the discussion of hydraulic fracturing, known for short as “hydrofracking,” or simply “fracking.” Local activist and ZBA member Paula Clair gave an exhaustive half-hour presentation to the board about the process back in July of 2012, followed the next week by a workshop to discuss the topic further.

A number of regional Democratic office holders, typically in support of environmental issues, have taken a stand against fracking, as has Republican Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, of Philipstown, long known for her concern for the environment. But even conservative State Senator Greg Ball has been a stalwart supporter of limiting fracking, and has held community meetings on the topic, even working closely with the anti-fracking activist and filmmaker, Josh Fox, who produced the nationally released films “Gasland,” and “Gasland 2,” documenting the negative effects of fracking operations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Fracking is, simply put, the process of drilling into underground rock formations such as the Marcellus Shale, which covers parts of New York and Pennsylvania, pumping a proprietary concoction (each driller has its own recipe) of water and chemicals at high pressure into the rock and releasing natural gas trapped inside. Proponents argue that it is a potentially valuable source of cheap, clean, home-grown energy. Opponents claim that the fracking fluid contains innumerable pollutants and the gas itself can escape, with both potentially polluting underground wells, ruining property values, and even killing plants and animals.

Disposal of the spent fracking fluid is a problem because it contains contaminants— including radioactivity— that can be harmful to the water table.

In March the Putnam Legislature passed a law prohibiting fracking waste from being accepted into any of the county’s 45 waste-water facilities, whether publicly or privately owned, as well as applying any of the waste as a potential de-icing product on county roads. More recently the Towns or Carmel and Southeast have also passed similar laws.

Paula Clair and two fellow activists were present Wednesday, noisily chatting in one row of the meeting room throughout the session, and each read a statement.

Lee Erickson, a Republican candidate for Town Board, also thanked the board for its support on this issue and reminded the public that hydrofracking is also used as a process to release water trapped in low-volume water wells, so people should not be alarmed if they see this kind of work going on in Philipstown, as it involves no chemicals.

Once the hearings had concluded, the board voted unanimously to approve all of the proposed revisions—except for one regarding technical corrections to the Zoning Law, which was tabled for additional work—and the new anti-fracking waste law. Clair and her companions were demonstrably pleased.

In other environmentally related news, the board also began discussion of “A Local Law establishing a six (6) month moratorium on applications for Major Wind Energy Conversion Systems within the Town of Philipstown.” The law is the result of a recommendation from the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which has been wrangling with an application for a 152-foot turbine at a home in a particularly scenic section of Philipstown [see separate article in this issue].

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