Town seeks draft prohibition against fracking waste

Waste from “fracking” — the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from the ground — may not seem much of a threat in leafy, residential, suburban Ridgefield. But problems from the reuse or possible disposal, storage — and transport — of often-toxic fracking wastes are enough of a concern that the selectmen are following up on local environmental activists’ suggestion that the town pass an ordinance to protect itself.

“Any truck traveling anywhere on or near our roads, containing fracking water, is an unknown danger,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “Any accident involving a truck carrying fracking waste will lead to immeasurable consequences and harm to our environment.”

Marconi spoke Monday, Feb. 5, explaining the Board of Selectmen’s request that Town Attorney Dave Grogins draft a proposed ordinance against fracking wastes for consideration at its Feb. 21 meeting.

If approved by the selectmen, any proposed new ordinance would have to go before voters at a town meeting for approval in order to become town law.

The selectmen’s request for a draft ordinance followed discussion prompted by Kristin Quell-Garguilo of the Ridgefield Action Coalition for the Environment (RACE).

Quell-Garguilo appeared at the board’s Jan. 31 meeting and offered a proposed local regulation against fracking waste, which she said could help protect the town in the event the state’s current fracking waste ban isn’t renewed before its slated expiration on July 1.

The fracking process produces both liquid and solid waste, she said, and fracking wastes are sometimes repurposed for such uses as construction fill or road de-icers.

“We’d be moving to pre-emptively ban this,” Quell-Garguilo said.

Liquid or solid

RACE’s proposed ordinance describes the problematic waste as “liquid or solid waste or its constituents … which may consist of water, brine, chemicals, naturally occurring radioactive materials, heavy metals, or other contaminants; leachate from solid wastes associated with natural gas extraction activities …” or “oil extraction activities.”

The proposal from RACE states: “The storage, disposal, sale, acquisition, transfer, handling, treatment and/or processing of waste from natural gas or oil extraction is prohibited within the town.”

It also prohibits “application of natural gas waste or oil waste … on any road or real property” in the town and “introduction of natural gas waste or oil waste into any wastewater treatment facility” in town.

And it contains provisions requiring bidders on town contracts to sign a statement that “no materials containing natural gas or oil waste shall be utilized” on the town jobs they seek to do.

The ordinance calls for fines of up to $250, and allows the town to try to require remediation and seek to recover costs “including experts, consultants and reasonable attorneys fees” stemming from violations.

Around the state

With the state ban on fracking waste potentially expiring July 1, a number of Connecticut towns are acting against the waste.

“The ordinance you’re seeing has been passed by 33 communities in the state,” Quell-Garguilo  said.

And more towns — including neighbors like Redding, Weston and Newtown — are considering fracking waste bans.

Conservation Commission Chairman James Coyle wrote the selectmen saying the commission had heard Quell-Garguilo’s presentation and “voted unanimously to endorse the draft ordinance and looks forward to seeing it implemented in the Town of Ridgefield to address this critical issue.”

Route 7

Fracking projects in New York and Pennsylvania have produced large amounts of waste, Quell-Garguilo told the selectmen, and even if it isn’t treated or re-used in town, the waste could roll through.

“At the very least, it will be coming down Route 7 on the way to the waste facility in Bridgeport,” Quell-Garguilo said.

Could the town ban trucks carrying the waste? Probably not.

“I don’t think a local ordinance can prevent using state and federal roads,” Grogins told the selectmen’s Jan. 31 meeting.

Protective measure

Quell-Garguilo suggested a local ban might help the town recover costs, or avoid liabilities, if a truck carrying the waste had an accident here.

“They’d be able to move through,” she said, “but we’d be protected in case of a spill,” she said.

The idea of the wastes being hauled for processing by treatment plants in Bridgeport seemed to Marconi like a good argument for protective measures.

“Some of the sewer treatment plants might be capable of extracting the toxins from the solution, some may not,” he said. “But the overall concern is to even have these tankers full of fracking waste traveling our roads, whether they be local or state.”

The state, he said, should renew its expiring ban and prohibit not only use and storage of the wastes but transportation of them.

“We must all put pressure on the state to prohibit this,” Marconi said. “Connecticut has often been called the gateway to New England, and coming out of Pennsylvania, most if not all trucks travel through Connecticut on (routes) 95 or 84 on their journey to other parts of New England — and that’s what we’re very very concerned about.”