Madison BOS Passes Anti-Fracking Ordinance
After a few months of consideration and some heated public debate, on April 9 the Madison Board of Selectmen (BOS) passed the anti-fracking ordinance, using the language originally proposed.
Fracking waste, as the name suggests, is a byproduct of fracking, which uses high-pressure water to extract petroleum products from bedrock. While fracking is not practiced in the state, the amount of waste generated at fracking sites often requires the waste to move across state lines either for disposal or repurposing. Due to Connecticut’s proximity to Pennsylvania, a state with a large fracking industry, local groups have been looking a ways to ban the liquid waste within this state.
In December 2017, residents first asked the board to consider a ban and hear a presentation from Jen Siskind, local coordinator for Food & Water Watch. According to the presentation, natural toxins and radioactive radium that may be found in oil and gas drilling waste are known to cause cancers, nervous system and organ damage, birth defects, and many other health problems. The State of Connecticut currently has a temporary moratorium on fracking waste storage, but critics say it is filled with loopholes. State law also mandates the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) to submit regulations for review by July 1.
At that time, members of the BOS seemed to agree that fracking waste in town is a bad idea, but they were less clear on a path forward and sought advice from State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-12), who serves as co-chair of the Senate Environment Committee; State Representative Noreen Kokoruda (R-101); and former Board of Finance chair and professor of environmental law at UConn Joe MacDougald.
On Feb 12, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) approved a resolution adding language to all town bid forms prohibiting the use of materials including fracking waste and set the date for this public hearing on the draft ordinance.
At the public hearing, some residents expressed concern over a language change in the ordinance that was proposed by the town attorney. The language of concern has to with how the proposed town ordinance describes prohibited waste. Section 1.02 of the proposed Madison ordinance reads: “The application of natural gas waste or oil waste, unless such waste has received beneficial use determination or other approval for use by DEEP, on any town-owned and/or -maintained road or town-owned real property located within the Town of Madison for any purpose is prohibited”.
Residents took issue with the inclusion of language involving DEEP, so at the BOS meeting on April 9, BOS member Bruce Wilson proposed approving the ordinance without the language change.
Wilson said when the conversation around a local ban started, the issue was fluid because no one was quite sure what the state was going to do about the issue. The General Assembly failed to get a statewide ban out of committee last year, but Wilson said legislation put forward by Kennedy and supported by Kokoruda has a lot more support this year and has made it out of committee.
“The good news is that it has the sweeping prohibitions against waste and their derivatives, so it would eliminate the opportunity for companies to bring in reprocessed wastes,” he said of the legislation. “I have hope that the state will approve this because truly that is where this responsibility lies.”
Wilson said some residents have suggested that the town could enforce the ordinance much the way police enforce speeding, but Wilson said the process is not that simple.
“A police officer can see a car illegally parked and write a ticket,” he said. “Waste that is poured into the ground in the middle of the night requires science and technology that we just don’t have as a town so the enforceability part of it is really one based in science and technology and we are not equipped to deal with that. The state is, presumably. Those have been my concerns, but that said I intend to support this ordinance and take it on faith that the state will step up and fulfill their rightful role on this.”
Selectman Al Goldberg said he agrees with Wilson in that while he hopes the state will take responsibility on this issue, the town should pass this ordinance now.
“I think we need to take every step at our disposal to protect this community,” he said. “I wish the state would have stepped in. They haven’t yet. I am not encouraged that they will. At such time they do a future board of selectmen might reconsider this, but I think for this point in time we should use the machinery that is available to us and so I will support your motion.”
The ordinance was approved by a 4-1 vote with First Selectman Tom Banisch casting the one dissenting vote.