The town’s nearly year-long debate over a ban against “fracking” — hydraulic fracturing — and the reuse of wastes from the fracking process, which is used in oil and gas extraction, will likely come to a conclusion in the next week.
A proposed anti-fracking ordinance petitioned for by more than 600 environmentally concerned citizens will go to a public hearing on Saturday morning Jan. 5, at 10, and then a town meeting Wednesday night, Jan. 9, at 7:30 — both in town hall.
“Please come out on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 to vote ‘yes,’” said Michael Garguilo, one of the leaders of the petition effort. “Don’t listen to any nonsense about us already being safe and/or stuff about it stopping roads from being paved and roofs not being able to be redone. Lies can result in inaction and we cannot afford inaction at this time.”
The proposed ordinance carries fines of up to $250, as well as a requirement to remediate damage and reimburse the town for costs related to violations.
The heart of the proposal being put before townspeople by the Board of Selectmen, at the request of 664 petition signers, is a prohibition on the use or reuse of wastes from natural gas or oil extraction on property in town, disposal of it in wastewater treatment or solid waste processing facilities, as well as a ban on long list of activities including the sale, acquisition, transfer and handling of such wastes — defined as including “all geologic or geophysical activities related to the exploration for or extraction of oil, including, but not limited, to, core and rotary drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
Under the proposed ordinance:
“The application of natural gas waste or oil waste, whether or not such waste has received Beneficial Use Determination or other approval for use by DEEP (Department of Energy & Environmental Protection) or any other regulatory body, on any road or real property located within the Town for any purpose is prohibited…”
The ordinance also restricts “the Introduction of natural gas waste or oil waste into” wastewater treatment or solid waste management facilities in town as well as “the storage, disposal, sale, acquisition, transfer, handling, treatment and/or processing of waste from natural gas or oil extraction is prohibited within the Town…”
The ordinance also has clauses requiring that contracts with the town government: “shall include a provision stating that no materials containing natural gas or oil waste shall be utilized” in services provided to or projects undertaken for the town. It requires that bidders and contractors for work on public properties in town “certify under penalty of perjury that no natural gas waste or oil waste will be used” in the project by “the bidder or any contractor, sub-contractor, agent or vendor agent in connection with the bid.”
The proposed ordinance specifically exempts transportation of fracking materials through town — something town officials had felt would not be enforceable. It says: “Nothing in this ordinance shall be interpreted to ban the transportation of any product or by-product described herein on any roadway or real property within Ridgefield.”
Although describing itself as an “Ordinance Prohibiting the Storage, Disposal or Use of Fracking Waste,” the prohibitions the law outlines mostly specify limits on uses of “natural gas waste” or “oil waste” in general.
The ordinance defines these as wastes as stemming from activities as “all geologic or geophysical activities related to the exploration for or extraction of natural gas or oil “including, but not limited to, core and rotary drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
It says the prohibited wastes “may consist of water, brine, chemicals, naturally occurring radioactive materials, heavy metals, or other contaminants … leachate from solid wastes” from oil or natural gas extraction, storage liquefication and “any products or byproducts resulting from the treatment, processing, or modification of any of the above wastes.”
Although Ridgefield isn’t considered an area where fracking or other oil or gas extraction activities are likely, the town’s adoption an anti-fracking ordinance was proposed last January by Kristin Quell-Garguilo of RACE, the Ridgefield Action Coalition for the Environment.
The town Conservation Commission voted Jan. 22, 2018, to support the ordinance proposed by RACE. The ordinance has also been supported by the Norwalk River Watershed Association.
But the selectmen had concerns with some aspects of the proposal, discussing it on and off from January into the fall — even putting forward an alternative version based on wording vetted by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
In the fall citizens began circulating petitions to bring the original RACE ordinance to town meeting. The petitions needed to be signed by 2% of registered Ridgefield voters — 369 of slightly over 18,000 voters.
As a leaders of the effort, Garguilo wrote a letter urging citizens to sign the petitions.
“…While the process of ‘fracking’ will not occur in Ridgefield, the danger of ‘fracking waste’ coming into our community is real,” he said. “‘Fracking waste’ is chemically unsafe and radioactive in nature. If these waste products are used in our community, such as an additive to road salt, the ecosystems and future generations (our children and their children) will be negatively impacted…
“We are currently not protected from these dangers … Please sign the petition to ban ‘fracking waste’ from being used and stored in our Ridgefield community.”
Garguilo said the draft ordinance he and petitioners put forward “was written by the legal counsel team for Riverkeeper, founded by environmental lawyer Robert F Kennedy, Jr.” and was approved by more than 30 Connecticut towns and cities.
Garguilo told The Press in late December that he expects a crowd in support of the ordinance.
“The meeting will be attended by many people whom are disappointed in the lack of action by the Board of Selectmen on this issue,” Garguilo said. “We feel our health and well-being was not the top priority when it came to fracking waste.”
Of fellow petitioners, he said, “I am happy that a group of intelligent Ridgefielders took the time to recognize this danger and put forth a massive amount of personal time and money to make sure the community is protected.”