Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Conversation About Fracking

The issue of banning hydrofracturing waste from the city has been before the Common Council for quite a long time. The minutes of the Common Council for January 17, 2012, make reference to a letter, accepted as a communication, from Claudia Bruce, "urging the Council to adopt legislation that would protect the citizens of the City from the potential adverse effects of natural gas extraction." After writing the letter, Bruce returned regularly to Common Council meetings to ask what action was being taken, once bouncing up and down on a back bench to act out her intention to be the squeaky wheel that would get the grease.

The discussion of the draft local law addressing hydrofracking and waste materials from hydrofracking began in the Legal Committee on August 22, 2012. Abdus Miah (Second Ward) and Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), two of the seven aldermen who voted against legislation on December 18, 2012, both serve on the Legal Committee. On December 10, 2012, the proposed law was introduced at the informal meeting of the Common Council. At the Legal Committee meeting, before the law was moved forward, and at the informal Common Council meeting, when it was introduced, city attorney Cheryl Roberts, who had drafted the law, explained its content and its intent. At the informal meeting, there were no questions, comments, or objections voiced by any of the aldermen, yet eight days later, the proposed law was, in the words of Alderman David Marston (First Ward), "torpedoed, and no one was willing to explain why they voted as they did." 

Last night, two aldermen--Pierro and Wanda Pertilla (Second Ward)--attempted to explain. Pierro complained about a sixteen-page document, implying that there had been inadequate time to comprehend its import. (Marston later pointed out that the claim that the document was sixteen pages long was "patently false.") Pierro also objected that no one had ever discussed the issue with DPW superintendent Rob Perry. Pierro sits on the Legal Committee, which first took up this issue in August. He had ample time to understand it and ample opportunity to suggest that Perry needed to be consulted. Pertilla explained her vote by saying: "I'm not going to vote on something that I am not fully educated about." 

When the meeting was opened to questions and comments from the public, Fifth Ward resident Cheryl Stuart took issue with an earlier statement by Pierro that "hazardous material [from fracking] is going to be state regulated" and his attitude that "we have to accept what New York State says." Citing home rule, Stuart pointed out that bans of hydrofracking are already in place in many New York communities. Pierro insisted that there was no way to prevent hazardous material from being transported through the city: "If New York State says something can come through the town, we can't stop it." When asked, Roberts conceded that a municipality cannot interfere with interstate commerce. 

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) made the point that passing the fracking law would "send a message to Albany" and warned "if we wait for New York State to make a final decision, we've abdicated our responsibility to our constituents." 

Stuart then posed this question to Pierro: "If we can ban contaminants, would you vote to support it?" Apparently missing the conditional nature of the question, Pierro said he wasn't the lawyer and gestured toward Roberts. 

Linda Mussmann, who is married to Bruce, who brought the issue to the Council in the first place, said she was "convinced that Cheryl Roberts has the expertise to write the law" and was "surprised that her aldermen voted against it." Mussmann and Bruce live in the Fourth Ward and are co-directors of Time & Space Limited, which is located, also in the Fourth Ward, on the truck route. The Fourth Ward is represented on the Council by Ohrine Stewart and Sheila Ramsey.


  1. As I discussed at length in a comment to the previous post, no "message to Albany" concerning fracking, and indeed no self-consistent position against fracking, can afford to overlook the energy we consume that is produced by fracking.

    If we want to send a real message, let's not be so hypocritical about it.

    As I discussed earlier, with the utility's help it would be possible (at the very least) to approximate the percentage of fracking energy we will use as a city based on the utility's data.

    We shouldn't be toying around with legislation to make ourselves believe we're taking a stand if we are only rejecting the waste products of a process we otherwise contribute to creating!

    An honest and consistent stand concerning petrochemical contaminants in Hudson's environment would not only demonstrate a real willingness for sacrifice, it would finally address the actual and present contamination in the city which these same politicians insist be ignored, or even suppressed. (Please see my comments on the deceitful BOA program following the previous post.)

  2. Let’s think about what we want to achieve and how we might do it.

    I think we can all agree that if we can anticipate some negative effect to our community and have it in our power to head off those effects then we should (at least) discuss doing something. The negative something in this case is the side effects of natural gas “fracking” which some communities in other states are suffering from. These effects include the use of hydro-fracking "backflow" as a de-icing agent on paved roads or for dust control on dirt roads. For communities with waste water treatment plants, it would include the use of those facilities to treat the backflow water (prior to its disposal). Neither of these practices would be likely to be implemented in Hudson, but they are undesirable and it would make the citizens feel better if they knew such practices were definitely prohibited.

    As both of these activities are under the direct control of the mayor, the decision to avoid these practices is in his hands and can be made without Council action. The Council can encourage such a decision (if the members feel the need) with a resolution or require it with a local law. Our supervisors can address it on the County level with a County law. Westchester County recently passed just such a measure. Read more about it here: http://tinyurl.com/aytvmh5

    There is a problem in some communities with truck traffic moving to and from drilling sites, causing congestion, pollution and road damage along the way. Because Hudson is not likely to be considered “on the way” from a staging point to a drilling site I don’t think the drilling related traffic should be a concern. We already have a problem with general truck traffic through the City and we should continue the on-going efforts to find other routes for that traffic.

    The other issues mentioned in the articles on the Council meeting are irrelevant. The City of Hudson is not going to be the target of any natural gas drilling activity - the geology is not attractive to anyone intending to reach the gas formations – so there is little value in banning it within the two square miles of our territory. We also cannot monitor every shipment moving through the city on State roads for hazardous content.

  3. doesn't sound like much of a conversation

  4. Saugerties, Woodstock, Kingston and other Cities in Upstate New York have all had formalized Town Hall Meetings where the topic of hydrofracking has been discussed with the citizens of their Cities. Experts were brought in to educate the public as well as their elected officials about the risks of hydrofracking. Don Moore indicated that the Council meeting last night was a Town Hall meeting. Due to the serious nature of a risk that could seriously impact our health, there should be a publicized notification to all of the residents of Hudson, inviting them to a meeting where the affects of hydrofracking would be discussed; experts and conservationists should be brought in to discuss the issue and make presentations. What I saw last night during the informal portion of the Council meeting, was just a lot of petulance, poor attitude and dismissivness by at least one Alderman who was elected to represent us.
    Hudson’s residents need to be given the chance to discuss this and have a say in the matter. Leaving it up to those who claim ignorance on the topic and yet who vote not to ban hydrofracking, its waste and disposal when our lives are at stake, is just unacceptable. Things of such importance having to do with hazardous waste, contamination of drinking water and exposure to carcinogens can’t be dealt with so flippantly. This topic requires informative discussion and intelligent resolution. A specific date, time and place to do this must be the order of the day, and that is what we should be demanding.
    In Woodstock, the Council’s vote followed the public hearing where opponents of hydrofracking urged passage of the measure as a means of protecting the town against environmental risks including the contamination of groundwater. “On July 17, 2012, the Town Board delivered the first blow of a proposed two-punch combination aimed at banning hydrofracking in Woodstock, unanimously adopting a zoning amendment that prohibits the controversial natural-gas extraction method and related activities within the town’s borders”.
    As Alderman Nick Haddad pointed out, we’re not concerned that they’re going to drill in the middle of Warren Street; however, the DEC is expected to recommend that hydrofracking be permitted in selected counties in the western part of the state, overlying the deepest parts of the Marcellus Shale formation, but only with the approval of affected towns. Fracking would not be permitted in areas including aquifers, designated historic districts, and the Catskill Park. Under those conditions for example, the City of Woodstock, which lies within both the New York City watershed and the Catskill Park, would appear to face no imminent threat, but the town is taking no chances. Hudson should take no chances.
    One of the concerns here in Hudson, was that hydrofracking toxic waste might be used to de ice our roads. In last night’s meeting, Alderman Pierro’s notion that we have to purchase our road salt from the State, indicating that we have no control over what is placed on our streets, is absolutely inaccurate. According to NYS Procurement Services Group of the office of General Services, there are many purchasing options available to local governments and school districts. One such option is to acquire goods or services under the terms of a New York State contract. While using State contracts might provide cost savings, there is nothing that stipulates that a City must buy through an approved State supplier.
    Let’s get this up to speed and formalized. It was indicated that this topic would be revisited by the Council in February. As far as I can see, the way our elected leadership has dealt with this issue is way too casual when addressing something that could adversely affect all of our lives, our health and our ability to continue to live in this glorious City of Hudson. Let’s not have another Love Canal.

    Cheryl Stuart

  5. I agree that's a better way of approaching things Michael. If the council attempted to pass a less grandiose resolution they'd probably have gotten somewhere by now.

    Perhaps what the legislation's foes reacted to so poorly was the sanctimony and grandstanding which attended the proposal. If there was less righteousness (on the part of citizens too) and a bit more modesty, then the proponents might have aimed for something that was attainable and also limited their exposure to charges of hypocrisy in the bargain (e.g., intentionally ignored contamination elsewhere in the city).

    Let's hope that someone gives some serious thought to your good counsel.

  6. When I bought my 18th cent. house built by ship captains from Nantucket,
    It was on truck rte.But I hadn't foreseen,the opening of Box Stores,Lowe's, Super Walmart
    or the constantly ever increasing truck traffic or sheer weight and enormity of these tractor trailers on 23B/9G,on over 200 yr old , residential roads built for Horses and Wagons,that now shake my house to its ancient foundation.
    JUST BAN IT..Yes ,it's understood,that Hydrofracking in our 2sq.Mile City ,off edge of Utica Shale ,is not the issue,but the rest IS.It's Part and parcel.
    After seeing too much ,that goes on here,
    as a resident,I want every protection possible,on the BOOKS,for citizens now and those in the future.Doing nothing,should not be an option.
    I could list so many current ecological infractions of current FED,NYS & Hudson Law ,
    going on now,that would require my own blog.
    I do not trust anyone in City Hall that voted against This Ban ,to do the right thing,if there is even the remote possibility to make money off this.
    Mr.O'Hara, I believe you are a sincere person. I have spoken directly to you about 20 junked cars in the yard behind me.
    Code Enforcement is well aware of this situation ,for at least the 6 yrs I have lived here. No action has been taken.
    I sat in on an environmental committee meeting you are on for County ,on the situation in Ghent ,with TCI FIRE,and I was terribly disturbed,by the lack of true understanding of severity of that situation,
    and how close a horrendous tragedy had been adverted,by sheer luck
    All I ever hear,is nothing,threats or "we do not have the power to enforce".
    The whole sorted situation with our water treatment plant ,concerns me.
    The odds of a tracker-trailer accident on the corner of Columbia and N.3rd are very high.As of right now.
    Since the snow fall of Dec.28th ,255-257 Columbia Street Lot(former CC. Club.)
    sidewalks have never been shoveled or ticketed.DPW,keeps just pushing more snow on top.The curb and sidewalks are not visible at all, adjacent to that vacant lot,
    so the near impossible,jack knife turn ,trucks,semis,tractor trailers,
    via BIG BOX Stores, that can barely make,from Columbia St onto the uphill grade of N.3rd St.;have been liberally taking advantage
    of this newly created "HWY extension" for them ,by owners of 255- 257 Columbia and DPW,
    by Cutting over the snow and ice covered curb,sidewalk,and actual lot.
    Every pedestrian,young and old, walking from Warren on East side of N3rd,
    has no warning ,this is coming,and is forced onto TRUCK ROUTE 23B/9G,at the most dangerous spot.
    ( I won't even get into sending,Citizen Lacey over to Galloway's house,to tell him ,
    to get his construction crap and snow off corner of Prison Alley,ASAP,before someone gets killed, being forced into truck route
    Which they actually did,no help from City.)Since,2nd Ward reps have done nothing about this ,why would I be surprised they do not care for the safety of our future,on this same HWY.,or spreading De-Icer ,made of toxic brine,that Gas companies are chomping at the bit to sell to municipalities-hell they'll give it to you, and pay a pretty penny to dump into waste treatment plants
    These companies are going to have to get rid of millions of gallons of this toxic,
    radioactive,waste water ,if Cuomo caves in and gives HYDRO Fracking in NYS ,the Green Light.
    and IT MIGHT ACTUALLY REALLY HELP US DOWN THE LINE,particularly from own "CITY" government.
    AND, as a citizen,I want Hudson to stand and be counted,as opposing Hydro-fracking ,in solidarity with the rest of NYS.

  7. Pondering why majority Hudson C.C. would voteAgainst BAN
    The New York Times
    Wastewater Becomes Issue in Debate on Gas Drilling
    Published: May 3, 2012 .excerpt
    Vexed by declining revenue, officials of the Niagara Falls water utility seized
    on a new moneymaking idea last year: treat toxic waste from natural-gas drilling
    at its sewage-treatment plant once hydrofracking gets under way in New York State
    Accepting the waste would both offset the drop in revenue and help keep water rates down for customers in the economically strapped region, they reasoned.

    But the thought of having fracking fluids trucked into the city,treated and discharged into the Niagara River frightened local residents,many of whom still recall the Love Canal environmental crisis of the 1970s.
    In a unanimous vote, the Niagara Falls City Council blocked the plan this spring by banning the treatment, transport, storage and
    disposal of drilling fluids within city
    “We’re not going to deal with this again — a chemical disaster,”
    said the council chairman, Samuel Fruscione.

    The drilling involves injecting vast amounts of water and chemicals into underground shale to release the gas.
    Should it begin in New York, the gas wells could generate hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater annually,
    and it is not clear where it could go.
    In written comments on New York’s proposed fracking rules,the federal Environmental Protection Agency has said that the state should ban the use of fracking brine on roads
    because pollutants could make their way into aquifers and waterways through infiltration and storm runoff.
    The E.P.A. is currently working on national pretreatment standards for waste headed
    for municipal sewage-treatment plants or private treatment plants, after finding that many of them are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater
    and may be discharging pollutants to rivers and other streams.
    Federal officials have warned that New York should not count on the disposal options that it now uses for salty wastewater
    from conventional gas wells, which produce far less waste than fracking.
    In written comments on New York’s proposed fracking rules, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has said that the state should ban the use of fracking brine on roads because pollutants could make their way into aquifers and waterways through infiltration and storm runoff.
    The E.P.A. is currently working on national pretreatment standards for waste headed for municipal sewage-treatment plants or private treatment plants,
    after finding that many of them are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater and may be discharging pollutants to rivers and other streams..."

  8. I just sent a copy of my post to Don Moore... being pro active on this serious issue, urging that it is immediately addressed by our elected officials. It would be helpful if he heard from all of you urging him to have the formal Town Hall meeting suggested below.

    Hello Don:

    Please see below - It's in your control to set this up as an advertised, formal meeting for Hudson residents, and invite experts in this field to speak at a Town Hall Meeting. I would be happy to help locate/contact experts on hydrofracking and its threat to the environment, to speak on the subject. I'm sure that if you set up a Meeting in late February or early March at the latest, that it would be enough time to get this together. Please let me know what I can do to assist. My office number is 518 828-4404.

    Cheryl L. Stuart