Monday, October 24, 2011

Niagara Falls sees profits in fracking waste, while critics see another Love Canal

 A public meeting will be held on Thursday, October 27.

The city of Niagara Falls is home to world-famous waterfalls as well as to a well-known, hazardous-waste disaster that occurred in the Love Canal neighborhood.

The Niagara Falls Water Board is exploring the possibility of cleaning up chemically-tainted wastewater derived from unconventional gas drilling using the process of horizontal, hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or simply fracking. However, critics are concerned that the treatment may not remove all of the hazardous waste and that the discharge would pollute the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, which are sources of drinking water.

The Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB), encouraged by a feasibility study by an outside group, seeks to increase profits by making use of their industrial waste treatment facility, which is currently underutilized. The Board stated that "...treating wastewater from Marcellus Shale would provide the NFWB with a significant opportunity to increase revenues, provide financial stability to our organization and stabilize our rate structure over the long term, all to the benefit of NFWB ratepayers."

At a public meeting on September 22, citizens recalled the hazardous waste contamination at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, and indicated that the Water Board's new venture could be another environmental disaster in the making. Fracking wastewater includes not only chemicals added by the drilling industry, but also brine and well as toxic and radioactive chemicals extracted from the shale. In general, treatment facilities are not equipped to remove all of these chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic. 

Lois Gibbs, a resident of Love Canal in the 1970's, led successfully the battle to convince NY state officials, the U.S. government and the public that hazardous chemicals buried nearby were causing health problems and birth defects. 

In an interview about the Water Board's new venture, Gibbs wondered if city officials would ever learn. “They’re moving away from the chemical industry because the chemical industry is moving away from them, and it’s time to start a new economy,” Gibbs said by phone Thursday from Falls Church, Va., where she’s executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. “And the new economy is certainly not taking chemical waste.

“We should be learning from past mistakes instead of risking our water so we can accept New York state’s hydrofracking waste,” said Rita Yelda, an organizer for Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group. Yelda and a coalition of local opponents sent questions to the Niagara Falls Water Board, and attended a Board meeting on October 20th seeking answers about the potential environmental impacts, possible impacts on human health, and other issues. The Board has yet to provide answers to those questions. A TV interview with Rita Yelda is here.

New York, which is currently under a drilling moratorium, is not the only possible source of fracking wastewater. The gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania, which has been heavily engaged in fracking since 2008, has polluted rivers by passing wastewater through sewage and industrial treatment plants and is now looking for new disposal sites. Disposal of wastewater from Pennsylvania at the Buffalo sewage treatment plant occurred earlier but is no longer permitted.

Richard Roll, the director of technical and regulatory services at the Water Board, said "Since we do have a unique kind of wastewater treatment plant that's very much under-loaded, we're looking into the possibility that, with the addition of other treatment processes, maybe our plant would be much more amenable to accepting this waste than your typical municipal biological plant."

A recent report indicated that the Niagara Falls Water Board is poised to accept fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York for treatment and discharge into the Niagara River. The Board has hired a public relations firm to promote the venture and has apparently been working with the Cuomo administration to develop a massive transportation plan.

The Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, the source of drinking water for millions of people in the U.S. and Canada. Their drinking water could be at risk if the Niagara Falls Water Board moves forward with its plans. The Council of Canadians, a social and environmental justice organization, sent a letter to the Niagara Falls Water Board concluding that "Given the significant risk posed to the Great Lakes by this proposal, we ask that you scrap it in order to protect the Great Lakes Basin for current and future generations."

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that it will develop standards for disposing wastewater from the shale-gas drilling process. The EPA stated that many treatment plants are not properly equipped to treat such wastewater, and indicated that it would consider standards required to be met before water can be sent to a treatment facility. The rules will be proposed by 2014. If passed, the rules would be among the first federal regulations directed at potential water contamination by fracking waste.
The Niagara Falls Water Board will hold a public meeting on Thursday, October 27th at 5pm in the Water Treatment Plant, 5815 Buffalo Ave, Niagara Falls, NY [MAP]. Concerned citizens are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should sign up before the meeting.

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