Ithaca, N.Y. — Anti-fracking activists in Ithaca celebrated Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision in December 2014 to ban fracking in New York state.

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But the controversial drilling practice still poses an environmental danger to Tompkins County — albeit one that draws less attention, says Dan Klein, a county legislator.

“Fracking is banned in New York State, but Tompkins County is still vulnerable to some of the negative effects of the petroleum industry,” he says.

Here’s the problem, according to Klein: Fracking produces a brine by-product filled with carcinogenic chemicals and low levels of radioactivity. The easiest way to get rid of that for some companies is by selling it. Even though fracking is illegal in NY, the toxic waste by-product can still be sold for different uses (like for clearing snow and ice from roads) in Tompkins County, according to Klein.

Legislator Dan Klein

What Klein wants to do: Klein is moving forward with a resolution that would make it illegal to use fracking waste on local roads or in local wastewater treatment plants.

Here’s the key language from the resolution, which can be read in full here:

“The toxins and radioactive materials found in oil and gas waste are detrimental to the public health and should be kept out of the County water supply and off County roadways. Due to the significant public health risks, and to ensure the safety of future generations, this Legislature hereby finds it necessary to prohibit the introduction of such waste into treatment facilities and roadways within Tompkins County.”

Klein says there’s precedent: 17 counties in NY state already have some form of this law, according to Klein.

Those include upstate locales like Onondaga and Clinton counties. “The fact that people in upstate had done it already makes it easier” for Tompkins to follow suit, he says.

What will happen without the law? | Klein says that the measure is preventative and that he is not aware of any extant plans to bring fracking waste to Tompkins County for these purposes.

What happens next: The resolution was discussed by the Tompkins County Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee on Tuesday. The committee endorsed the resolution and set a date for a public hearing to discuss it.

Why Klein says this is important: The necessity of the measure is simple, Klein says: To protect Tompkins County’s water supply.

He says that if the byproduct is used to clear the local roads it has a high chance of seeping into nearby wells and getting into groundwater.

“I truly believe this is not a partisan issue. Protecting our water — this is not something we should be taking for granted,” he said.

“We have abundant, clean water — it’s a relatively rare thing in the world, and we shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.