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Legislature To Consider Ban On Wastewater From Fracking

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Connecticut Capitol Hall of the House (Bob Falcetti/Getty Images)

Connecticut Capitol Hall of the House (Bob Falcetti/Getty Images)

STEPHEN SINGER, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A year after approving a massive expansion of natural gas use in Connecticut, state lawmakers are considering a ban on storing or recycling wastewater generated as a byproduct of gas exploration.

Environmentalists back several bills intended to eliminate any possibility that Connecticut will be exposed to wastewater produced when chemical-laced water used to fracture underground rocks flows back during drilling.

Transporting wastewater into Connecticut from sites used for natural gas fracturing, or fracking, in Pennsylvania or elsewhere is unlikely, the industry says. Still, environmentalists are seizing on any opportunity to limit or halt fracking.

The legislation also raises the prospect that lawmakers want to have it both ways: expanding a statewide network of natural gas pipes and equipment while leaving it to others to clean up the mess.

“If a bill like that were to pass we’d be on the cusp of being disingenuous,” said Steve Guveyan, executive director of the Connecticut Petroleum Council, which opposes bans on storage or recycling of fracking wastewater.

Louis Burch, Connecticut program coordinator at the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a backer of restrictions, said buying or importing natural gas does not obligate Connecticut to find a way to safely dispose of the wastewater.

“It’s a transaction. We’ve paid in full,” he said.

The New Jersey Legislature approved a measure in 2012 prohibiting the treatment, disposal and storage of fracking wastewater. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it, saying fracking is not being done in the state and is unlikely in the near future. Lawmakers are trying again with a similar bill introduced in January.

The Connecticut legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee is considering several measures to grapple with fracking waste, said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, the committee’s House vice chairman. One proposal would ban disposing and storing wastewater while another would regulate processing, disposal and storage.

Legislation to confront fracking waste in Connecticut is not symbolic, Steinberg said.

“It’s conceivable it could come to Connecticut,” he said.

Still, storage and recycling are regional distribution issues “that we’re years away from addressing,” he said.

Environmentalists say wastewater is toxic and cannot be properly handled at treatment plants. And restricting the disposal and treatment of wastewater is another way to push back against fracking, said Seth Gladstone, a spokesman for Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group.

“The wastewater is the dirty underbelly of the fracking process,” he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation last summer expanding Connecticut’s natural gas distribution system to provide an alternative to costlier heating oil. The state’s regulated natural gas companies have filed a proposal with state regulators outlining plans to connect 280,000 customers over 10 years.

Unlike New York, Pennsylvania and other states with direct access to huge energy deposits, Connecticut must import natural gas. Its new policy expanding natural gas use adds to demand, but Malloy said when he signed the gas expansion law that energy companies will drill regardless of what Connecticut does.

Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, supports bans and regulations to make sure Connecticut does not become the region’s dumping ground. Fracking has been on hold in New York since an environmental review was launched in 2008. Pennsylvania barred drillers in 2011 from moving wastewater to treatment facilities, forcing them to haul the fluid waste to underground wells in Ohio.

“If New York enacts a ban on storage and Pennsylvania imposes a ban, why should we not protect the interest of the state since we’re not producing the waste?” Hwang said.

Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Policy, said the state has several regulations that require permitting and oversight for treatment of fracking wastewater.

States may regulate drilling, but federal energy law enacted in 2005 prevents the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating fracking. The exemption is commonly called the “Halliburton loophole,” a reference to the company’s pioneering role in fracking and the high-profile role of former Vice President Dick Cheney, a one-time Halliburton CEO, in convening an energy task force that urged the exemption.

Steinberg said he expects only one bill will emerge from the Energy and Technology Committee after all sides speak at a public hearing yet to be scheduled.

“I expect a vigorous day of testimony,” he said.

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Follow Stephen Singer on https://twitter.com/SteveSinger10

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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