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After grassroots struggle, city bans fracking

Published Mar 3, 2011 8:28 PM

After months of demonstrations and repeatedly packing the gallery at City Council meetings, Frack Action Buffalo, a local grassroots group, and its supporters celebrated a major victory. The city of Buffalo’s Common Council became the first major city government in New York State — and the second in the U.S. — to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. The Council passed “Buffalo’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance” on Feb. 8 by a 9-0 vote.

The activists succeeded in combating an assault on Buffalo’s media and legislators by spokespeople from the powerful gas and oil industry, who targeted this very poor city with propaganda about huge numbers of jobs to be created by fracking. The Frack Action group’s success was the result of intense research, informational meetings in many communities and detailed presentations to lawmakers.

Buffalo follows in the footsteps of Pittsburgh which passed a similar ban last November. However, the Buffalo law not only prohibits drillers from fracking for gas in Buffalo. It also bars the disposal of drilling wastewater or other production wastes within city limits. This is where the Buffalo law is different from Pittsburgh’s: it takes on the issue of what to do with the millions of gallons of wastewater generated by the process. This dangerous byproduct of fracking contains carcinogens, volatile organic compounds and radioactive material.

In Pennsylvania, as reported in January by the Associated Press, the Department of Environmental Protection authorized the discharge of at least 3.6 million barrels of fracking wastewater — with minimal to no treatment — into rivers and streams across the state.

Immediately after Buffalo’s ban was passed, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution supporting Buffalo’s ban on fracking.

Shortly afterward, it was revealed in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation documents that wastewater from vertical fracking wells has been knowingly accepted by Buffalo water treatment facilities, although they could not properly treat it. Contaminants were therefore released into the Niagara River, the water source for several towns and for the huge mists of Niagara Falls.

Frack Action Buffalo has called for a demonstration at the Buffalo office of the DEC on March 7, coordinating with solidarity actions at DEC headquarters in the state capital and others across the state, to demand that New York’s governor define this waste as “hazardous material” and keep it out of sewage treatment plants that are unable to clean it.

“Buffalo is leading the way,” said Rita Yelda, a student at Buffalo State and organizer with Frack Action Buffalo at their press conference following the Council vote. “And we urge other cities and towns to pass similar bans. We want to tell Albany: We will stand up in defense of our communities if you will not.”

Fracking is unregulated at the federal level due to exemptions given to the powerful gas and oil industry in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.