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Editorial: Westchester board comes together to ban fracking waste

Men with Cabot Oil and Gas work on

Men with Cabot Oil and Gas work on a natural gas valve at a hydraulic fracturing site in South Montrose, Pa. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, stimulates gas production by injecting wells with high volumes of chemical-laced water to free up pockets of natural gas below. (Jan. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Westchester County may be a day trip from the rock formations of the Marcellus Shale region along the state's southern tier and Pennsylvania border -- and all that natural gas locked deep inside -- but lawmakers here are fearful that the potentially toxic byproduct of drilling could find its way into our streams and rivers.

Or worse, it could seep into our drinking water.

Just days after the lights-out budget brawl where eight Democrats hiked out of the room in protest, the 17-member Board of Legislators put aside partisan infighting this week and voted unanimously to prohibit county facilities from treating the wastewater produced by a controversial drilling method. They also won't allow any of its brine, typically used to de-ice roads, to be used within the county borders.

On these fronts, they are on solid ground. Inspired, members of the Assembly -- including Sandra Galef of Ossining and Thomas Abinanti of Greenburgh, both Democrats -- on Wednesday said they'll introduce similar legislation in Albany for communities statewide.

In the absence of national standards or state guidelines for disposing of toxic wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, communities are forced to figure it out on their own. In passing this law, Westchester joins other places, including Suffolk and Ulster counties and the City of Niagara Falls, that have enacted similar bans.

The future of fracking in New York is unclear as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and health experts wrestle with the issues raised by the drilling technique, which uses high volumes of water, chemicals and sand to free the natural gas from underground rock. Neither the state Department of Environmental Conservation nor the federal Environmental Protection Agency have come up with permanent, final rules on the process. Meanwhile, there are legitimate concerns about using excess wastewater on icy roads, which could then trickle into our waters, and worries over whether existing wastewater treatment facilities are adequate for this industry.

The preference of Westchester may not determine the outcome of wastewater disposal in the state. But there's no harm if County Executive Rob Astorino signs the bill as a message to state leaders about fracking byproducts and the need to clarify the disposal issue as quickly as possible.

Westchester's law doesn't ban fracking, as some upstate municipalities have tried to do, but it does go after the mess that could be left behind.