Two years ago, Suffolk County passed a law banning the acceptance of hydrofracking wastewater at county sewage treatment plans. This week, Southampton has expanded on that ban by outlawing the acceptance of the waste anywhere in Southampton, including at town and privately owned sewage treatment plants, and the use of the briny wastewater as a winter road de-icer.
Assistant Southampton Town Attorney Carl Benincasa explained at a public hearing April 22 that the state DEC has not prohibited fracking wastewater for use as a brining solution for roads, even though it contains a proprietary concoction of chemicals that are hazardous to human health and could taint Southampton’s drinking water supply.
The ban doesn’t cover the actual process of hydraulic fracturing for gas because Southampton does not sit on top of an underground natural gas reserve.
The initiative was sponsored by Councilman Brad Bender, who said at the April 22 hearing that energy companies are selling, and in some cases giving away hydrofracking wastewater to municipalities for use as a road de-icer.
“This puts the cart before the horse before this gets this far down the island,” he said. “Westchester has already banning it, and they’re looking for new customers. I’ve decided that we will not be a customer.”
The law, which was unanimously passed by the board, would fine anyone who introduces natural gas waste into a sewage treatment facility, who buys or sells the waste or applies it to roads, a fine of between $2,000 and $30,000 per violation, along with a jail sentence of up to 90 days. The penalty would be for each day that the law is broken, meaning offenders could face escalating fines if they continue to use fracking water.
Joan Hughes of the East Quogue Citizens Advisory Council told the board she doesn’t think anyone believes the town would buy or use this stuff, but “it’s a good thing to be ahead of the curve in case this every comes our way.”
John Bouvier of Westhampton, a former Democratic candidate for Town Trustee, said that hydrofracking generates four million gallons of wastewater per well, and hydrofracking companies are desperate to find a way to get rid of the stuff.
“It exploits economically challenged communities, percolates into the aquifer, and is a threat to the health and welfare of the community,” he said.
George Lynch of Quiogue said that, apart from the possibility for differing views on hydrofracking, the wastewater should not be used on the East End, which depends on its underground aquifer for drinking water.
“The merit of this proposal is self-evident,” he said. “As far as we know, the town highway departmen has never used natural gas waste in any of its operations and does not contemplate doing so.”
Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor joked that he should now sell his stock in fracking waste.
But, seriously, he said, the town already creates its own brining solution using sodium chloride and its own upweller.
“You shouldnt let your guard down,” he said of the potential for hydrofracking waste to make its way into town. “We can’t go deep to get to groundwater. We rely on the upper glacier aquifer.”
Mr. Gregor said he doubted hydrofracking waste would make inroads onto Long Island, since most hydrofracking water trucks weigh between 100,000 and 120,000 pounds and the bridges to Long Island have an 80,000 pound limit.