Virtually all of the 58 who spoke at Wednesday evening’s hearing on a proposed county law to prohibit the use of hydrofracking brine as a de-icer on county roads said they wanted the ban, and one on fracking in Ulster to boot.
Hundreds packed the gym at Ulster County Community College in Stone Ridge for the Ulster County Legislature’s hearing, emceed by Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo. The event, talked up for weeks among local fracking foes, had its theatrical moments — two anti-fracking signs were displayed in the bleachers, one a huge banner with the website addresses of two activist organizations held by a man wearing a yellow haz-mat suit. Speaker Tom Caplan, who suggested public education programs on fracking for high school students and the introduction of a separate penalties bill, displayed a chilling blown-up photograph of agricultural spraying of DDT, in which a boy was playing in the spray; he replaced it with a similar-sized photograph of spray from a fracking well embellished with a giant question mark.
Speaker Gloria Waslyn sang the Pete Seeger song, “God’s County or Me.” Half a dozen women wore white T-shirts printed with “Gas Fracking Brine” superimposed with a red circle with a slash through it.
If passed, the law would be the first in the state by a county legislature banning the use of the chemical-laden wastewater from fracking wells as a road deicer. Last year, the legislature unanimously banned hydrofracking on county-owned property, and on April 12, County Executive Michael Hein signed an executive order prohibiting the use of brine for road deicing on all county roads.
Prior to the public comments, Legislator Ken Wishnick (D-Esopus, New Paltz) told the audience that he had introduced Local Law No. 1 of 2012, as it is known, after fellow Legislator Don Gregorius (D-Hurley, Woodstock) alerted him to the dangers of fracking following the passage of a ban in Woodstock. He said that an amendment was already planned that would extend the ban to include wastewater from vertically drilled oil and gas wells (which is being used elsewhere in the state for deicing roads), as well as those using horizontal fracking techniques.
Wishnick said the legislature needed to take action even though Hein had issued the executive order because the order alone wouldn’t entail penalties for infractions of the ban. As currently proposed, the new law would require all bid documents related to road improvement or property maintenance to include language that use of production brine on roads or property is prohibited.