Fracking waste ban draws support from the public

Michael Garguilo raises his hand to speak during Saturday’s public hearing in town hall. — Macklin Reid photo

Opposition to oil and gas fracking and use of byproducts from the process in Ridgefield was widely shared among about 25 Ridgefielders at a public hearing Saturday — suggesting, though some doubts and concerns were expressed, considerable support for an ordinance to ban reuse of fracking by-products that is scheduled for a town meeting vote Wednesday, Jan. 9.

“Please do not have any material from fracking in our town,” said Alisa Trachtenberg of Hulda Lane. “A lot of people have wells, and the stuff is insidious.”

“I’m all for keeping the material out of here — it shouldn’t be on the planet,” said Bevin Carsten of Lookout Drive.

There were a few voices on the other side. “I’ve been an opponent,” said Scott Deyoung of Caudatowa Drive, describing himself as an engineer who’d done some work in the field of oil and gas extraction, though not much with fracking itself.

“I think it’s vague,” he said of the ordinance. Deyoung criticized the approach of limiting use of materials based on their source — fracking, or other oil and gas extraction activities — rather than whether or not they contained toxins.

“It’s the properties of materials I care about. I don’t care where it comes from,” he said. 

Overall, 17 people spoke at Saturday’s two-hour public hearing: nine were clearly in favor of the ordinance, two were clearly opposed, and six asked questions or offered comments that didn’t put them firmly on one side or other. The speakers included a couple of out of towners — a man from Greenwich, who’s on the Representative Town Meeting there, opposed the law, and the proposal was supported by a woman from Glastonbury, who’s with the environmental group Food and Water Watch.

There’s little expectation actual fracking or hydraulic fracturing will be done for oil and gas extraction in Ridgefield — though a similar process is used in creating wells for drinking water. But the proposed ban would keep the fracking byproducts — which often contain an array of toxins, including radioactive substances — from being used in town.

It also support an environmental goal by limiting reuse of by-products from oil and gas fracking in other locations, potentially making the process less financially attractive.

Alternative law?

Much of Saturday’s discussion focused on the Board of Selectmen’s efforts to draw up an alternative ordinance, which addressed some concerns.

“Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Angela Liptak of Wilton Road East, urging people to pass the fracking ordinance as put forward by petitioners, despite discussion suggesting ways to improve it.

Michael Garguilo, a leader of the petitioning effort that collected more than 600 signatures in support of the ordinance, dismissed the idea that better versions of an anti-fracking ordinance have been passed in other towns, or might be proposed in Ridgefield with more time to work on it.

“This is the best ordinance there is,” Garguilo said near the end of the hearing.

“There was a second ordinance that was sort of put forward in the process. I got a chance to review both of them side by side,” he said. “…The other ordinance has loopholes.”

The alternative ordinance he’d looked at “makes it appear you’ve done something” while leaving openings that could be taken advantage of by corporations seeking to profit for the reuse of fracking wastes.

The ordinance proposed by petitioners, he said, had passed muster with numerous experts.

“I’ve met with a lot of environmental lawyers,” he said, “…this ordinance has all the protections in it — it’s fair.”

The heart of the ordinance going to a town meeting at the request of 664 petition signers are the prohibitions 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 bans on activities including the sale, acquisition, transfer and handling of wastes from “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.”

The same language is repeated in regard to gas extraction.

The proposed ordinance carries fines of up to $250, and requirements to remediate damage and reimburse the town for costs related to violations.

Chemicals, carcinogens

A four-page handout Garguilo made available at the hearing described the situation with fracking waste the ordinance seeks to address.

“The waste generally contains toxins, high levels of radiation, and carcinogens,” the handout says. “Chemicals and naturally occurring toxins in fracking and other extraction wastes are known to cause multiple cancers, organ damage, and neurological and developmental problems, birth defects and other serious health problems. [Extensive scientific data is available: concernedhealthny.org.]”

The handout also says:

“The waste problem has grown exponentially in nearby Pennsylvania and New York. Other towns have made the mistake of accepting cheap road treatments and fill, and are suffering irreparable damage to their roadways, land, water and health.

“Million of tons of fracking wastes are generated each year in Pa. and N.Y. It is extremely expensive to store safely, and fewer and fewer states are permitting storage and treatment options. Spreading this waste into products such as road deicers and construction fill is increasingly becoming a problem nationwide.”

Wording changes

Although the selectmen worked on a different version of an anti-fracking ordinance, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said that they were obligated to bring the specific ordinance sought by the petitioners to the town meeting.

“We cannot alter the wording,” Marconi said.

Asked if voters at the town meeting could seek to amend the wording, Marconi said the past practice was to allow votes on amendment proposals “if it’s a minor, grammatical change” but not if the meaning is altered.

“To change the intent substantially would be wrong and illegal,” Marconi said.

The selectmen had worked on a different anti-fracking ordinance due to concerns with some aspects of the proposal backed by the petitioners — including a requirement that contractors doing work for or providing products to the town give “certification” that no fracking byproducts are being used.

“The certification is language we were told is very hard to obtain,” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said.

Marconi said they were concerned requiring the certification language would make work or certain products hard to obtain.

“Asphalt is a by-product of the oil extraction process,” he said.

“We were very close,” Selectman Steve Zemo said of the board’s effort to come up with alternative wording. “Rudy was very diligent about getting the right language for us.”

The selectmen said they shared the petitioners’ goal of having a local ban on fracking by-products, and not relying on state regulations. But the selectmen appeared to retain some concerns about specifics of the petitioners’ proposed ordinance.

“Everyone on the board is in agreement we need an ordinance,” Marconi said. “…Belt and suspenders — we wanted to be sure the belt and suspenders are the right ones.”

“Why are we going ahead with an ordinance if you don’t fully support it?” John Katz of Ridgebury Road, a planning and zoning commissioner, asked.

“Charter requirements,” Marconi replied, explaining that since the petitioners had gotten verified signature of more than 2% of Ridgefield’s roughly 18,000 voters, the selectmen had to send the petition language to town meeting.

Certification

Opponents like Deyoung wondered what the certification clause in the petitioners’ wording might mean.

“Are we going to continue paving our roads if our contractor declines to certify?” he asked.

“In the interest of self-preservation: probably,” Marconi replied.

In organizing the petition effort, Garguilo said, he’d sought feedback from O&G Industries, a major asphalt supplier. He quoted Sue Duffy, an assistant vice president of the materials division at O&G, as saying: “The petition and ordinance put forward will not an impact on O&G, We look forward to continuing to work in the Ridgefield area.”

Garguilo said other towns’ experience showed that fears and rumors about the ordinance had little basis in the reality.

“In no way does this or will this ordinance prevent people from using asphalt on the roads,” he said.

“This has been passed by 53 other communities in Connecticut and they still asphalt the road,” he said. “…You may hear you can’t tar your roofs — none of that is in this ordinance.”

Louise Washer, president of the Norwalk River Watershed Association, supported the ordinance as helping to protect against the use of fracking by-products on roads, where it could run off into wetlands and streams and end up in the Norwalk River — and Norwalk Harbor with its $30-million a year shellfish industry.

“We really can’t afford to have this waste in our waterways and in Norwalk Harbor,” Washer said.

Bob Fox of Catoonah Street asked Marconi and the selectmen about their efforts to draft an ordinance, and if they’d found meaningful differences between the results of other towns that had adopted the petitioners’ proposed ordinance, or drafted their own versions.

“How much interaction have you had with other towns that have done this?”

Working on a draft that might address some of the selectmen’s concerns, Marconi said, he’d initially worked from a model ordinance produced by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM). Then he’d learned the CCM version relied on assistance from an industry lobbyist.

“We kind of put that in the parking lot,” Marconi said.

“Greenwich, although it passed overwhelmingly, they did make some slight changes,” he said.

He said the selectmen shared the petitioners’ goal.

Ridgefielder Alisa Trachtenberg expressed the hope that by passing laws in one location after another that ban the disposal or reuse of fracking wastes, they’d become a liability that left industry reluctant to use the process. She noted that disposal of fracking wastes by injecting them into the earth has been linked to increasing numbers of earthquakes in areas like Oklahoma.

“Maybe people will find there’s no place we can bring this stuff,” Trachtenberg said.

“Between earthquakes from fracking, and contamination of our waterways — enough is enough.”

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