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By James Hufnagel

The motto of Niagara Falls should be "Give us your toxins, your carcinogens and poisons, the wretched waste from your teeming industries."

Because we make it go away. It's big business here, in case you didn't know.

CWM, Love Canal, Superfund sites too numerous to list, radioactivity under Lewiston Road.

Don't eat more than one fish a month out of the Niagara River or Lake Ontario, because they're lousy with dioxin and mercury, the legacy of toxic landfills that have been slowly leaching into our water supply for decades.

Despite all the cancer deaths, birth defects, the detrimental effects on our tourism and agricultural industries, the poisonous filth oozing out of pipes, and our widespread reputation for being the nation's toxic toilet, we haven't learned a damn thing.

The Niagara Falls Water Board is poised to accept "frack" water from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York for treatment and discharge into the Niagara River.

Fracking is short for hydrofracturing, and unless you recently woke from a coma or returned from an extended retreat in a Tibetan monastery, you've seen it in the news, read about it in the papers, laughed at it on "The Colbert Report," or debated it with your brother-in-law.

There's also the possibility that you've driven through the hellscape that is northwestern Pennsylvania, where the gas- and oil-drilling industry has held sway since John D. Rockefeller made his first billion there a century ago.

It's almost like entering another world when you cross the state line. Thousands of gas wells have been drilled during the past five years, with thousands more on the drawing board.

In order to drill a gas well, an area around two acres must be cleared of forest, meadow, schoolyard or lawn. If it's in the forest, an access road is built, with trees removed for a 20-foot clearance on either side of the road. The gas well infrastructure includes storage tanks and a morass of pipelines, as well as a holding pond as big as an Olympic-sized pool for the used fracking water. Hummers and pickup trucks with Texas plates abound at these drilling sites.

Millions of gallons of water are removed from Pennsylvania streams and rivers and blasted down into the gas wells to frack the rock layers and free the natural gas, greatly improving the productivity of the well. It's the fracking process that has turned the Pennsylvania portion of the so-called Marcellus Shale region, which extends as far north as the city limits of Buffalo, into the site of a modern-day gold rush.

While most of the fresh water used for fracking is lost forever to rock strata thousands of feet below, millions of gallons regurgitate back up the well and are diverted into the on-site storage pools. The used frack water is laden with radioactive uranium from deep within the earth, as well as dozens of chemicals added to enhance various fracking properties, many of which are carcinogenic.

Spills and leaks are common occurrences. What doesn't end up carelessly discharged into the local water table is hauled away by big tanker trucks. These tanker trucks have been caught dumping raw frack water on roads, into streams, ponds, lakes and rivers, or carting it to municipal treatment facilities woefully ill-equipped to filter out the chemicals and radioactivity.

Niagara County is distant from the shale gas deposits, but the industry makes headline news down there every day. Houses are blowing up from migrating gas, and hundreds of water sources have been infiltrated by methane and rendered unpotable. Rough-hewn drill workers, a large percentage of them imported from Texas and Oklahoma, are arrested for drunken misbehavior on a regular basis.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a preliminary plan placing the New York City and Syracuse watersheds off limits for fracking, but it seems he's just fine with allowing the industry to have its way with Western New York. I have some choice names for Cuomo, none of which can be printed here. The water board has been paying a public relations firm, E3 Communications of Buffalo and Albany, $4,000 a month to develop a campaign to persuade us to open wide for the frack water waste.

The April 28, 2011, minutes of the monthly meeting of the water board report the "Notification of contract extension with E3 Communications for hauled waste public relations work," but it wasn't until June 23 that the board meeting minutes report the issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for "Hauled Waste Communications/PR Work."

The RFP lists some of the apparently retroactive requirements for the winning firm, E3: "Conduct strategic planning meetings and communications related to government affairs and advocacy activities to build ... public opinion support of (the frack water disposal) initiative," and asks them to "please provide evidence of proven results for strategic initiatives similar to the sensitive work the NFWB is currently exploring."

So if you hadn't heard until now that the water board is planning to process oceans of radioactive frack water, containing a unholy brew of chemicals that the industry until very recently refused even to identify, and dump the "treated" water into a freshwater system that supports tens of millions of people and many billions of dollars of economic activity, it's because the water board considers the matter "sensitive."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 26, 2011