Virtually all of the 58 who spoke at Wednesday evening’s hearing on a proposed county law to prohibit the use of hydrofracking brine as a de-icer on county roads said they wanted the ban, and one on fracking in Ulster to boot.
Hundreds packed the gym at Ulster County Community College in Stone Ridge for the Ulster County Legislature’s hearing, emceed by Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo. The event, talked up for weeks among local fracking foes, had its theatrical moments — two anti-fracking signs were displayed in the bleachers, one a huge banner with the website addresses of two activist organizations held by a man wearing a yellow haz-mat suit. Speaker Tom Caplan, who suggested public education programs on fracking for high school students and the introduction of a separate penalties bill, displayed a chilling blown-up photograph of agricultural spraying of DDT, in which a boy was playing in the spray; he replaced it with a similar-sized photograph of spray from a fracking well embellished with a giant question mark.
Speaker Gloria Waslyn sang the Pete Seeger song, “God’s Counting on Me.” Half a dozen women wore white T-shirts printed with “Gas Fracking Brine” superimposed with a red circle with a slash through it.
If passed, the law would be the first in the state by a county legislature banning the use of the chemical-laden wastewater from fracking wells as a road deicer. Last year, the legislature unanimously banned hydrofracking on county-owned property, and on April 12, County Executive Michael Hein signed an executive order prohibiting the use of brine for road deicing on all county roads.
Prior to the public comments, Legislator Ken Wishnick (D-Esopus, New Paltz) told the audience that he had introduced Local Law No. 1 of 2012, as it is known, after fellow Legislator Don Gregorius (D-Hurley, Woodstock) alerted him to the dangers of fracking following the passage of a ban in Woodstock. He said that an amendment was already planned that would extend the ban to include wastewater from vertically drilled oil and gas wells (which is being used elsewhere in the state for deicing roads), as well as those using horizontal fracking techniques.
Wishnick said the legislature needed to take action even though Hein had issued the executive order because the order alone wouldn’t entail penalties for infractions of the ban. As currently proposed, the new law would require all bid documents related to road improvement or property maintenance to include language that use of production brine on roads or property is prohibited.
Parade of support for ban
The speakers included a couple of former or current municipal officials, several locally known singer-songwriters, one hydrologist, a number of prominent local activists and a man from Chenango County, where the brine has been used to deice roads and suppress dust on the local fairgrounds. The first speaker was Amanda LaValle, coordinator of the Ulster County Department of Environment. She spoke on behalf of the county executive, noting “he applauds the county legislature for its efforts” and “encourages other municipalities to do the same.”
Former county legislator and current New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet said the proposed law “is only the first step” and municipalities need to act to prevent the use of oil and gas well brine on roads. While the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation barely extends beyond Ulster’s western edge, another gas-producing rock formation, called the Utica Shale, does underlay the county, and Zimet said gas-industry reps were already “trying to get leases” in the Town of Rochester.
Zimet said a number of environmental groups and the Tompkins County legislature had signed a letter to Governor Cuomo “asking him to slow down” in the plan to allow hydro-fracking, which she encouraged legislators to sign.
Woodstock Town Councilman Jay Wenk said he hoped every other town in the county would follow the example ofWoodstockand institute a ban on the use of brine on roads. (Speaker Sue Rosenberg, of Frack Free Catskills, said that her town, Saugerties, has also passed a similar law.)
Slideshow image: From left, Dana Mitchell of Woodstock, Ethel Little of Shokan and Toni Weidenbacher of Woodstock wear their feelings on their shirts. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)