Erie County bans hydrofracking

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

The Erie County Legislature today banned high volume hydraulic fracturing on county land and imports of any drilling waste to its water treatment facilities.

The legislation passed 9-2.

The vote comes almost three years after Buffalo became the second city in the nation to ban the controversial gas drilling practice, also called “hydrofracking.”

On Dec. 3, the County Legislature received a petition with 3,845 signatures supporting the ban.

The legislation also includes a ban on importing drilling waste to county water treatment facilities and using the waste on county roads to melt snow and ice.

Hydrofracking is a practice that injects millions of gallons of water with sand and toxic chemicals thousands of feet underground to collect natural gas reserves in rock formations. New York has a moratorium on hydrofracking while the Health Department continues a review of potential health impacts that has lagged for years.

Some of the risks of hydrofracking include groundwater contamination, methane pollution, toxic chemical exposure and gas well blowouts. The water used for hydrofracking becomes a toxic brine that either has to be treated at great cost or injected back underground, which has been tied to causing earthquakes.

Hydrofracking  supporters say there is plenty of evidence that hydrofracking can be done safely and the concerns have been overblown. Supporters also say hydrofracking is a job creator that boosts the economy.

Hydrofracking protestors in Albany. Photo credit: Bennett V from Flickr Commons

Hydrofracking protestors in Albany. Credit Bennett V

Rita Yelda, of Food & Water Watch and Western NY Drilling Defense, has led the charge against hydrofracking.

“Erie County residents have gotten what they expect and deserve: protection of their fundamental rights of health and safety from the dangers of fracking and fracking waste,” she said in a prepared statement. “They’ve seen the air, land and water contamination that fracking causes and are thankful that this legislature is on the side of the people.”

The state’s Appellate Court ruled earlier this year that local governments can ban the practice of hydrofracking. New York’s highest court has agreed to hear an appeal of this decision sometime next year.

U.S. Rep Chris Collins (R) criticized the vote in a prepared statement:

“Today’s vote by the Erie County Legislature to irresponsibly ban fracking ensures that Western New York will continue to wallow in the status quo while jobs flee our region for pro-growth areas that embrace new technologies and common-sense job policies.

By voting in favor of this ban today, county legislators have aligned themselves with President Obama and Governor Cuomo’s fringe, anti-business interests that have sabotaged New York’s economy and jobs for our citizens.”