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Niagara Falls bans treatment of fracking fluid

Niagara Falls.jpg
Alberto Mari
via Flickr
The Niagara Falls Water Treatment Plant sits upstream from the city's famous waterfall. Some city residents feared treating fracking fluid would harm the natural attraction.

Niagara Falls, N.Y. has banned the treatment of fracking fluid.

The move comes after the Niagara Falls Water Board was openly considering treating fracking fluid from wells in Pennsylvania and Ohio in order to boost the city’s finances.

The liquid is a toxic mix of chemicals and heavy metals used during the controversial natural gas drilling technique.

Opponents of fracking argue there is no safe way to purify the liquid before it is discharged into public water sources.

Unanimous vote

In a unanimous vote Monday, the Niagara Falls City Council passed an ordinance its members say is designed to withstand legal challenges.

Niagara Falls is one of the first cities in the country to enact a ban, but its ordinance is based on earlier efforts that passed in Buffalo and Cleveland.

“It’s the final word,” says Niagara Falls Councilman Glenn Choolokian. “[The water board] runs the water plant, we run the city. We make the ordinances, we set everything in place.”

“Other cities were challenged on [the ordinances] and [the ordinances] have [been upheld] in court,” Choolokian added. “If [the water board] is stupid enough to try to fight this, shame on them.”

Thanks to the industrial nature of the city, the Niagara Falls Water Treatment Plant has treatment capabilities that other municipal facilities lack.

Last year, the executive director of the water board, Paul Drof, described the treatment of fracking fluid as a natural extension of the work the city’s public facilities already do every day.

During an interview last November, Drof said the city’s water treatment facility has the capacity to accept fracking waste from sources such as rail and trucks. He argued this increase in business would result in lower water bills for residents.

“This is a great opportunity to use an underused public utility to provide rate stabilization and rate reduction,” Drof said.

Ultimately, the water board decided last December to wait for word from Albany on whether New York State will allow fracking. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is currently wading through 40,000 public comments on the matter.

Should New York begin to issue permits for hydrofracking, councilman Choolokian says the ordinance was needed to prevent the water board from acting independently and signing contracts with natural gas companies.

“If this was such a great idea, another city, another state would have done this [already],” Cholookian says. “Niagara Falls has been tainted as the city that doesn’t ever do anything right.”

Calls to the water board’s Paul Drof were not returned Tuesday.

Touchy subject

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster signed the measure into law Tuesday. He says he’s heard a strong tide of public discontent against using city facilities to treat other states’ fracking waste - especially without clear evidence that city residents would benefit financially.

“Everybody knows New York is trying to figure out what to do about hydrofracking,” Dyster says. “And everybody knows that Niagara Falls, just from a technical standpoint, would be the candidate treatment facility for fracking water, if you decided to go that direction.”

The issue is a sensitive one for a community still smarting from the Love Canal environmental disaster.

“We’re very dependent on the natural environment for our livelihood,” Dyster says. “Niagara Falls is the goose that lays the golden eggs here, so we’re very concerned about water quality.”

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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