April 18, 2012

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Strong support at hearing for Ulster County's frack fluid ban

The hearing was moved to a larger venue in anticipation of a
big turnout

STONE RIDGE – Hundreds of residents turned out at the SUNY Ulster gymnasium Tuesday night, to support Ulster County's proposed law banning fracking fluids from being used on county roads. A public hearing was held by the legislature, seeking input from the community.

“Fracking” refers to hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas from deep shale by injecting what some say are toxic concoctions at high pressure, deep below the ground.

The byproducts of fracking are sometimes used by municipalities as a road de-icing agent. Use on roadways is a cheaper alternative to sand or salt, since the fluid – referred to euphemistically as “brine” -- comes at no cost.

Last week, County Executive Michael Hein issued an executive order, effective immediately, declaring the same ban on fracking liquids. Only the legislature, however, can enact criminal penalties to give the rule teeth for substantive enforcement.

More than 60 speakers told the legislature that fracking is generally a bad idea. Their only criticism of the bill was universal desire to increase criminal penalties, and eliminate any possibility for legally sidestepping the prohibition.

Ulster is the first county in New York to consider such a bill prohibiting frack brine on roads. Last year, Ulster's legislature unanimously voted to ban fracking on county-owned land. Home rule law prevented the ban from extending throughout the county as a whole.

Former County Legislator Susan Zimet, who sponsored last year's law, is now New Paltz town supervisor and is working on filling the regulatory gaps.

“Every supervisor spoke about how we can come together, do one bill to get adopted in every single solitary town, and ban fracking in Ulster County,” Zimet said.

“If we're lucky, we might be the first county to have every town do a ban bill, and we're all working on that,” she added. The matter is urgent, Zimet noted. Fracking agents have been knocking on doors in Rochester looking for mineral leases.

Beneath the Marcellus shale layer of Pennsylvania and Sullivan County is found Utica shale, followed by a layer of oil. “That's really the gold they're after,” Zimet warned. Utica shale is prevalent throughout Ulster and Dutchess counties, she indicated.

“We all live downstream,” commented Woodstock resident Steve Gentile. “We're all in this together.” Others spoke of the health effects caused by chemical poisoning, inviting corporate polluters to drink their own sludge before spreading it around the planet. Many took umbrage at the semantic and secrecy of such brine, calling for broad definitions in the proposed law.

County Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo said lawmakers will move as swiftly as possible to bring the issue to a vote by the full legislature.


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