By Rita Yelda
The debate over whether to allow fracking in New York has been playing out for years, with more and more residents learning about the complex nature of the issue and the numerous impacts it would have on our state’s water, agriculture, environment and public health. Not surprisingly, the longer the debate has carried on, the more statewide opinion has shifted against the hazardous drilling method. But now the debate has taken on local, direct and immediate implications for Erie County, in the form of fracking’s soft and dirty underbelly: toxic waste.
The Erie County Legislature is considering a law that would ban the importation, processing and disposal of fracking waste in county facilities. Such bans have already been enacted in more than a dozen New York counties. That Erie hasn’t done so is alarming.
For each gas well that is fracked in the region, millions of gallons of highly toxic and radioactive wastewater are produced. This waste contains hundreds of toxic chemicals, including chloride, benzene, arsenic, mercury and toluene, some of the most carcinogenic substances known. In fact, it’s estimated that more that 25 percent of all the chemicals found in fracking waste are carcinogenic, and almost half are endocrine or reproductive system-disruptors. Furthermore, fracking waste ends up highly radioactive, due to both the fracking chemicals found in it, and naturally radioactive groundwater that is forced into the mixture as a result of the drilling process.
To put it mildly, the fracking industry has a waste problem, and it’s looking desperately to unsuspecting communities for a solution. Currently, most fracking wastewater from our region is injected into deep underground wells in West Virginia and Ohio. But these injection wells cause earthquakes, and these states’ shrinking capacity to handle ever-increasing amounts of waste from Pennsylvania underlines the threat to New York and Erie County.
Erie County has no means to properly process or dispose of fracking waste. First, there are no underground injection wells in Erie – and even if there were, do we really want earthquakes caused by their use? Second, by virtue of being the product of the oil and gas industries, fracking waste is exempted from federal and state regulations pertaining to hazardous materials, even though the contaminants found within fracking waste should certainly be treated as hazardous. Third, Erie’s wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to handle the extreme and highly variable contaminant loads found in fracking waste.
“Processing” fracking waste in Erie County facilities poses a danger to our communities. On Thursday, the Legislature can pass a ban on fracking waste in county facilities. It should do so.
Rita Yelda is an organizer at Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group.