Residents ask Pomfret Town Board for fracking ban

A pair of visitors to a recent town of Pomfret council meeting brought a request along with some information.

Fredonia residents Jim Wilmoth and Jonathan Titus asked the board to consider establishing a 10-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing within town limits and to prevent water removed from fracturing sites from being treated or dumped in the town.

Wilmoth said while the Marcellus shale is a primary target in other parts of the state, locally, a rock unit called the Utica shale is more desirable for drilling for gas using the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method. The method employs large amounts of water combined with chemicals, which are injected at high pressures into existing rock fractures to open up the layers and force out natural gas that would otherwise be trapped.

“We need this until the technology gets better,” Wilmoth stated.

Wilmoth explained research he conducted about consequences to water supplies from chemical spills on the ground in areas where fracking wells have been set up.

Titus explained fracking sites are each about a square mile in size and require many trucks to carry millions of gallons of water in and out, a variety of chemicals and large quantities of sand.

These materials, Wilmoth explained, can damage roads, and he cited municipalities in Pennsylvania where roads have been heavily damaged by trucking related to fracking, and the repairs left to taxpayers.

“The traffic to these sites is astronomical,” he told the board.

Titus said because of their size and scope, millions of gallons of chemically-treated water can spill into nearby streams and contaminate the watershed. The reservoir which supplies the Fredonia water treatment plant is unprotected from surface runoff.

Wilmoth said fracking fluid which has been injected into wells is full of a variety of chemicals and difficult to treat. He explained millions of gallons of water are treated with chemicals before being injected into shale to create pressure, and the water picks up chemicals from the rock in the process. He said the water from each site is “highly variable” and “unpredictable” in what it contains because of what chemicals are first added and what chemicals the treated water extracts from rock. He explained the water is therefore difficult to treat, can cause damage to filtration systems, and may still be contaminated after treatment. Titus said the water could contain benzene, barium, strontium, bromine, radon, selenium and other chemicals and could pick up radioactive particles from the rock. He said many of the chemicals are carcinogenic. “It’s a real potpourri of chemicals, and it’s been a big deal in Pennsylvania to try to deal with it,” Titus explained, and added in some cases, the water was dumped directly into streams.

“What’s in this water? Our knowledge will increase over time, and then we can make better decisions,” Wilmoth said in support of the 10-year moratorium he proposed.

Town Supervisor Don Steger said he didn’t believe Fredonia’s water filtration plant in the town has the capacity to treat such large quantities of water.

In addition to treatment of the water either produced locally if fracking of the Utica shale begins or trucked in from other areas, Wilmoth also expressed concerns over how much water might be extracted from the lake. If fracking is permitted in the region, Wilmoth said large quantities of water could be drawn from the lake. Steger said a business can only extract 100,000 gallons per day without a permit, but Wilmoth said companies can avoid such regulations.

“They set up names in other companies so they can take out as much as they want without a permit,” he said.

Wilmoth also said he feared the Department of Environmental Conserva-tion’s current regulations, which have recently been delayed for approval, are not adequate for the local region. He said the area surrounding the reservoir in Fredonia does not meet the DEC’s definition of a primary aquifer, around which strict limits on fracking are placed. He said the town can exert “home rule” by establishing a moratorium.

Town Attorney Jeffrey Passafaro addressed the legality of municipalities and moratoriums on certain activities in the state. He said he has seen cases in two other towns in which “they did enact a moratorium. In both cases, the local law was upheld after it was appealed by natural gas interests,” which are now on appeal at another level in the state. He added landowners wishing to lease to gas companies have sued for an appeal as well as natural gas producers.

Passafaro said passing a moratorium is also tricky to define because older, passive natural gas wells already exist all over the town. “Appeals have affirmed the local ability to zone with respect to where, but cannot regulate how, so you have to be careful,” he explained.

Steger said he didn’t believe the region is a likely target for natural gas companies. “It’s not the Marcellus (shale). I think we’re a low priority in the scheme of natural gas futures,” he said, and added he wants to see what the DEC plans reveal when they are adopted.

Councilperson David Penharlow also said he was interested in reading the DEC position before making any decisions.

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