Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Monday was urged to sign legislation that would ban hydraulic fracturing on county-owned property.
The proposed local law was adopted by the County Legislature in a bipartisan vote earlier this month.
The appeal came during a public hearing that the county executive was required to hold on the legislation that would also prohibit the disposal of drilling waste from hydrofracturing into county-owned wastewater-treatment plants and the spreading of byproducts from “fracking” on county roads.
About 60 people attended the 90-minute hearing in the Department of Public Works conference room at the Rath County Office Building. Nearly half of them spoke during the hearing, and only four spoke in opposition to the legislation.
Doug McLinko, a legislator from northeastern Pennsylvania who perhaps traveled the farthest, was among the minority calling on Poloncarz to reconsider the ban. McLinko said his community of Bradford County, Pa., has more natural gas wellheads than any other county in his state. This has proven to be an economic boon not only to Bradford County, but has offered residual benefits for New York State residents in nearby Tioga and Susquehanna counties.
“Pennsylvania has seen billions of dollars in their coffers from everything from sales taxes to liquid fuel taxes,” McLinko said.
“Not one time, not ever, has there been a freshwater supply affected by hydrofracking,” he added.
However, McLinko’s assertions were contradicted numerous times by local residents who insisted that the runoff and waste products generated from the hundreds of chemicals used in the hydrofracturing process pose a grave threat to local waterways and, ultimately, public health.
“Over 15 years, I’ve traveled to Pennsylvania. I think it’s an alternative universe that was previously described here,” Jim Hufnagel, of the Town of Wilson, Niagara County, said in response to McLinko’s testimony.
“I’ve seen the widespread environmental devastation. I’ve seen the creeks that have been ruined, the huge football field-sized holding ponds of this dirty, filthy water,” Hufnagel added.
“I’ve talked to people whose well water has been ruined, who have a huge plastic tank in their backyard that’s swapped out every week by a gas company because their well water was ruined.
“This is all a reality down there now.”
Buffalo resident Paul Siepierski said any potential economic benefits from fracking would be negated if the region’s water supply was irreversibly contaminated in the process, ruining prospects for other industries.
“Our dairies, our farms, orchards, vineyards, wineries, breweries, juiceries, schools, medical research centers, food processors are all dependent on steady generous supplies of good potable water,” Siepierski said.
“Good water is crucial to business friendliness.”
While some people debated the safety of hydrofracturing, Judith Wilfrom, of the Town of Tonawanda, insisted that the local geology of Erie County does not even support it.
“The Marcellus Shale, which is what underlies the formation where you get the gas, doesn’t really reach up into Erie County,” Wilfrom said.
Poloncarz has 10 days from Monday’s hearing to either sign the legislation or veto it. He said his office will continue to accept written statements about the proposed local law from the public through Friday.
Though it is widely expected that Poloncarz will sign the legislation, the county executive said he will announce his decision next week.