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DEC 23, 2014 - JAN 07, 2015

Dyster Press Release May Signal Intention to Overturn Frackwater Ban
Frack waste water treatment not banned by Cuomo decision

By James Hufnagel

December 23, 2014

And who will volunteer to take the first drink?

There's no doubt that Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted fracking in upstate New York. He wanted fracking so bad he could taste it.

Fracking is practiced in dozens of other states, particularly presidential election swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. It wouldn't have looked good on a presidential candidate to be banning the practice outright.

Last year's State Energy Master Plan draft, prepared by the Cuomo administration, indicated that fracked natural gas will play a key role in the state's energy portfolio over the next decade.

Fracking probably could have provided a short-term windfall of jobs and tax revenues in certain economically-depressed southern tier counties, gold rush-style. Like most gold rushes, it would have meant five or ten years of prosperity, and ruined land and water for good. That's why Cuomo's first policy position on fracking, years ago, was to prohibit it on hundreds of square miles of New York City watershed. "But if the rednecks of Tioga and Steuben counties want to frack, let 'em frack," the governor can be imagined saying.

When the Reporter first broke the story in July of 2011 that the Niagara Falls Water Board was planning to import millions of gallons of produced water from gas wells ("frackwater") for treatment and discharge into the Niagara River, we were aware of two trips Water Board Executive Director Paul Drof had made to Albany to meet with Cuomo's people on the proposal.

A full year later, it was learned from a Water Board insider that Drof had, in fact, made multiple trips to Albany, and the logistics of importation and processing of frackwater at the Buffalo Avenue plant had reached an advanced stage of planning.

All these clues, and others, led many to believe that the governor was going to allow fracking on some limited basis. So last week's decision came as something of a surprise.

There are three reasons Cuomo jilted the frackers. The first was the enormously effective and diverse coalition of opponents, including farmers, teachers, parents, sportsmen, health professionals, local elected officials, scientists and even wineries, applying

unrelenting political pressure.

The second was the proliferation of town and village "frack bans", and the courts' finding them constitutional, making drilling in New York State far too risky and economically unfeasible.

The third was the long-awaited NYS Dept. of Health report released last week, that details fracking's deleterious impacts on respiratory health, drinking water, earthquake activity and climate change, as well as soil contamination, noise and air pollution, distressing increases in both traffic fatalities and birth defects. The body of evidence against fracking is large and growing, and peer-reviewed science doesn't lie. Apparently, even Gov. Cuomo couldn't stomach the idea of significant portions of upstate becoming an environmental Hooverville a few short years from now when the natural gas is depleted and the oil and gas men have all gone back to Texas and Oklahoma.

Democrats all over the state, particularly those who consider themselves "moderates" (such as those who lost US Senate seats last month in the Republican landslide), broke their longstanding silence on fracking practically within minutes of the Governor's announcement. Public officials who had kept silent on fracking, expressing no opinions or leadership over the entire four years Cuomo mulled over his options, suddenly came to life, heaping effusive praise on the governor. It was like a Christmas miracle – a week early!

For example, Mayor Paul Dyster that afternoon issued a press release which read, in part, "(We applaud) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to ban the natural gas extraction technique known as "hydraulic fracturing," "hydrofracking," or simply "fracking," for short."

Actually, "hydraulic fracturing" has been practiced all over New York and other states for many years prior to the development of "High volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing", the technique at issue.

It goes on: "The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance in March 2012 banning… the treatment, storage, transfer, and disposal of fracking wastewater in the city's wastewater treatment plant, one of only two locations in Western New York said to be capable of treating the material. Fracking wastewater is a mix of water, sand, and potentially unsafe chemicals which is used to blast through layers of underground rock in order to access natural gas deposits."

Pointing out that the Niagara Falls wastewater treatment plant is "one of only two locations… said to be capable of treating the 'material' (i.e. highly toxic and radioactive fracking wastewater)" is neither necessary nor relevant to the subject of the press release, which is a state ban on a specific natural gas drilling method. And the "'potentially' unsafe chemicals" include over thirty listed carcinogens.

In fact, Mayor Dyster has been consistently noncommittal over the years when it comes to the desirability of the Water Board accepting and "treating" fracking wastewater.

With fiscal distress the watchword for the city for the foreseeable future, and steep tax increases on its residents and businesses looming ahead, is it possible the Mayor, with his council majority, is poised to overturn the city's ban on frackwater importation?





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