Legislature Votes to Ban Fracking Wastewater in Rockland County

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

New City – The County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution on June 4 barring the processing and use of wastewater produced by hydrofracking within the county. The passage elicited strong support from attendant environmental activists and organizations, who spoke in favor of the law in a public hearing prior to the vote.

The “Keep Rockland County Safe from Hydrofracking By-Products Act” prohibits the county’s wastewater treating facilities from processing wastewater produced as a byproduct of fracking. It also prohibits the sale of natural gas waste within the county and the use of wastewater on roads and real properties.

The law establishes the use of such waste as an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a $25,000 fine, up to thirty days imprisonment, or both. Part of the resolution was modeled after a similar law passed in Westchester County banning the sale, application and disposal of wastewater.

According to Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, wastewater is not currently being used in the county, but the law was still valid as a proactive health and safety measure.

“We don’t use this brine on our roads currently,” Cornell explained. “We’re trying to prevent it from ever happening in the future.”

Hydrofracking is a process by which a chemical mixture is pumped into naturally-formed cracks in the earth, pushing out natural gas for extraction. The process produces wastewater which is often difficult to treat, forcing natural gas extractors to truck the water to other municipalities for processing by treatment facilities or sale as a de-icing fluid for roadways.

However, the process of wastewater treatment has been criticized as incomplete and corrosive to plant equipment. Both processes have also been argued to be ineffective in preventing carcinogenic, radioactive and highly saline chemicals from seeping into drinking water.

The legislature showed universal enthusiasm for the measure. According to Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan, the vote was “the easiest vote I’ve had in perhaps two years of being on this legislature.”

Legislators Ed Day and Danny Carey showed strong support for the legislation, though they also expressed a desire for more information on the larger issue of the safety of fracking in New York State. Carey specifically requested the legislature seek further input from experts.

“This is a very important issue,” Carey explained. “I would just like to have the ability to hear the experts testify before us and give us their input as well, because I want all the facts from all different sides and all different places.”

A public hearing was held prior to the vote, during which activists from both sides of the Hudson River expressed thanks for the legislature’s consideration of the resolution. Rockland resident Lorinda Hill explained that she was “grateful and pleased” the legislature had brought the resolution to the floor.

Riverkeeper Legal Fellow Krista Yacovone commended the legislature for bringing the issue to a vote considering the continued production of wastewater in smaller, low-volume hydrofracking wells and the reality of wastewater.

“Passing this legislation is critical because the sale, acceptance and disposal of this waste is currently ongoing in New York State,” Yacovone said.

Ed Berry of the Lower Hudson Sierra Club explained the radioactivity of the waste cannot be cleansed in treatment plants and can only be released in its contaminated form, a process he argues is so reckless that it would not be permitted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with their own radioactive waste.

“If neither New York State nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would permit this waste to be floating around as it is, why should Rockland County?” Berry asked.

In addition to the fracking vote, the legislature passed two other noteworthy resolutions. The first proclaimed Rockland County as a Purple Heart County in honor of armed service members injured or killed during their service, while the other requests the State Legislature’s passage of Bill S.3048 and A.6263, both of which permit the removal of pensions and retirement benefits from elected officials convicted of certain felonies.