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Westchester legislators pitch hydrofracking byproduct ban

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 could become the latest New York community to ban hydrofracking byproducts.

On Tuesday, a county legislative committee gave a tentative nod to drafting legislation that would prohibit county facilities from treating wastewater byproducts produced by hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, which involves blasting chemically-treated water deep into the ground to extract natural gas for energy usage.

"The wastewater from the gas and oil extraction process hydrofracking is known to contain numerous carcinogenic chemicals as well as many other hazardous compounds," Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah), who proposed the bill, wrote in a memo. "Unable to treat this hazardous waste effectively, extractors frequently truck wastewater to municipal wastewater treatment plants that are unable to effectively treat and remove many of the hazardous chemicals."

Democratic lawmakers who are pushing the proposed ban also want to explore the possibility of banning the use of the briny byproducts to de-ice county roads in the winter and trucks that transport the materials along county roads.

Ultimately, the legislation would have to be approved by the full legislature and County Executive Rob Astorino.

The process of hydraulic fracturing injects thousands of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into deep, horizontally drilled wells at high pressure to release natural gas from shale. The vast Marcellus Shale formation that underlies parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is believed to hold 84 trillion cubic feet (2.38 trillion cubic meters) of recoverable natural gas, enough to supply the nation's gas-burning electrical plants for 11 years.

Supporters of hydrofracking say the industry will create jobs and provide an abundance of clean-energy; opponents say the process damages the environment and creates hazardous byproducts that can pollute rivers and groundwater supplies.

Ellen Weininger, educational outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Grassroots Environmental Education, which opposes hydrofracking, told legislators that even if Westchester isn't one of the communities where hydrofracking will be used, companies that produce natural gas using the practice shop around for local governments willing to process the waste.

"Pennsylvania has active fracking operations with thousands of wells and haulers looking for venues to bring that waste to," she said. "And not just for wastewater treatment, but for de-icing, dust control and many other uses."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is working on plans to allow hydrofracking to proceed in at least five counties in a region along the Pennsylvania border called the Southern Tier, on a limited basis and only in municipalities that want it. They include Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is currently working on a final environmental impact statement on hydrofracking, a critical step toward allowing the controversial gas drilling method to begin in those counties.

The Democratic-led Assembly passed several bills to regulate hydrofracking in this year's legislative session, but the Republican-led Senate has not passed any similar legislation.

More than 100 New York communities have passed moratoriums on hydrofracking or the byproducts created by the process, while others -- mostly in the southern tier region -- have approved legislation supporting the process.

With The Associated Press


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