In 2014, Connecticut was on the verge of passing a statewide ban on fracking waste. What we got instead was a temporary moratorium, which unfortunately mandates that regulations be submitted for review, possibly as early as next summer.
But we're not waiting for the ink to dry on future regulations. We’re organizing town by town to prohibit the use of dangerous drilling waste. And we’re winning.
According to state law, towns have the authority to "prohibit the carrying on within the municipality of any trade, manufacture, business or profession which is, or may be…prejudicial to public health." So we are building campaigns that show local townspeople how they can use this law to have an immediate impact.
These campaigns are a great way to engage those who are familiar with the harms associated with oil and gas drilling, and it has proven to be an effective way to educate community members who aren’t yet aware of the dangers of fracking. By conducting public forums, distributing educational materials and directly assisting local grassroots groups, we are reaching thousands of state residents and giving them something they can do, right away, to make sure that this toxic brew of chemicals, wastewater and radioactive brine never threaten the health of their communities.
This drilling waste can be potentially used as a de-icer, to control dust on roads, and even as construction and fill material. We explain the potential hazards fracking waste poses to public health: chemical and radioactive contamination of water and soil, permanent damage to private and public property, dangers to pets and livestock, fish and shellfish; and the enormous cost to taxpayers if remediation is necessary, if that is even possible.
Towns in four counties have passed local waste bans, including Washington, Coventry, Mansfield, Portland, Andover, Ashford, Branford, and Windham, which includes the city of Willimantic. And this is just the start; several more are expected in the coming months.
Depending on a town's charter, local citizens have gathered signatures to call for a special town vote, or helped commissions move ordinances forward. Across the board, there has been overwhelming support. We won our first local ban in Coventry in October 2015 on a 90-1 vote. Mansfield followed the next month, with residents convincing their town council to pass unanimously. Commission and council members were active in Portland and Windham—and both votes were unanimous. Then more than 140 people turned out in Andover in October 2016 to unanimously and resoundingly vote, ‘Aye!’ The next vote came in December in rural Ashford, with town residents supporting passage by 30-2.
There is currently no fracking in our state. But the fracking fields of Pennsylvania are generating over a billion gallons of liquid waste, and millions of tons of solid waste, all of which need to be disposed somewhere. That requires thousands of tanker and dump trucks carrying dangerous loads through our region. Bringing this waste to one of the most densely populated and smallest states in the nation makes no sense. (Fracking waste shouldn't be disposed of or transported anywhere that it could harm people's health.) For fracking activists in Connecticut, saying no to this waste is one concrete way to challenge the industry. And for those who aren't aware of the toll of fracking, these waste ban campaigns become an important educational experience. When we win, we create a new group of activists, aware of the hazards of fossil fuels, ready for the next fight.
Banning fracking everywhere is still the goal, and we can get there. Local action is one proven way to protect our health and resources, and keeps us heading down the road to the clean energy revolution.
Jennifer Siskind is a Food & Water Watch Local Coordinator in Connecticut.