Connecticut Takes A Step Closer To Keep Fracking Wastewater Out Of The State

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Activists on Wednesday delivered petitions with over 5,600 signatures to Connecticut lawmakers in support of legislation that would ban the disposal or storage of wastewater from fracking anywhere in the state. Supporters of the prohibition warn that Connecticut could become the next dumping ground for waste from Pennsylvania’s over 6,000 gas wells.

On Monday, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee approved the proposed ban, SB 327, by an overwhelming 34-6 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate floor.

If the bill is not passed by both the Senate and the House by the end of the current legislative session, May 7, it will die by default.

Last year, three similar bills to ban fracking waste disposal in the state were introduced. Only two of the bills ever made it out of committee and none ever made it any further in the legislative process.

The House is currently considering a competing bill, HB 5308 that would place a two-year moratorium on the disposal or storage of fracking wastewater in Connecticut while officials at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection study the issue and come up with regulatory rules regarding the waste byproducts.

Unlike Pennsylvania and New York which sit atop of the natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale, Connecticut has no such resources and will probably never see a fracking well dug within its borders. Environmentalists, however, fear that that does not necessarily make Connecticut immune to the hazards of the industry. Minnesota and Wisconsin don’t have fracking wells either, but both states are undergoing radical changes and suffering certain environmental consequences thanks to new booming sand mines that provide a key ingredient in fracking fluid.

Activists in Connecticut don’t want the process to end in their state. Fracking is a drilling technique which uses sand, water, and chemicals injected at high pressures to blast open shale rock and release the trapped gas inside. The process produces millions of gallons of waste containing a cocktail of chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive material. The exact composition of fracking fluid is considered a trade secret in most states and is not public information. In 2012, Pennsylvania produced 1.2 billion gallons of fracking wastewater. Much of that waste got shipped out of state to neighboring Ohio, which has experienced a dramatic increase in seismic activity in part related to wastewater that is injected deep underground for storage.

“This is a proactive step to protect the water, soil and residents of Connecticut,” said Chris Phelps, Campaign Director at Environment Connecticut. “For us it makes perfect sense to, for once, close the barn doors while the horses are still inside.”

Connecticut is not the only state to consider such a ban.

Vermont also has no significant shale oil or gas resources but in 2012 became the first state to ban fracking and fracking wastewater. Massachusetts is also considering legislation that would impose a 10-year moratorium on fracking and would ban wastewater from treatment, storage or disposal in the state.

In 2012, the New Jersey Legislature approved a measure prohibiting the treatment, disposal, and storage of fracking wastewater. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it on the grounds that fracking wasn’t happening in the state and was unlikely to in the near future. Lawmakers are trying again with a similar bill introduced in January.

Last summer Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation greatly expanding Connecticut’s natural gas distribution system to lower heating costs in the state. Some 280,000 customers are expected to be connected to natural gas over the next decade.

Gov. Malloy’s office did not directly respond when asked if the governor would support either bill. In a written statement the press office said “We are actively monitoring the proposals, and will continue to do so as they go through the legislative process.”

Tom Foley, the favorite Republican candidate to challenge Gov. Malloy in this year’s gubernatorial race, was also unavailable for comment on the legislation.