NIMBY is a familiar acronym for citizens who object to activities that will directly affect them and their families, property and communities.
It has a slightly superior, entitled cast to it, implying that some dangerous activities are acceptable, just "Not In My Back Yard."
But the news that tons of Pennsylvania fracking waste, toxic and radioactive, are being dumped in New York landfills should put our collective teeth on edge whether we approve of fracking or not.
On this finite planet, there is no “away.” When you throw something away, that means out of your sight. It doesn’t mean it can’t affect you, come back to bite you. In our disposable society, we throw “away” tons of stuff every day, but where does it go? Out of sight, but not away.
One interesting sidebar to the search for the lost Maylasian airliner was that the searchers found a huge (miles across) plastic island floating in the Pacific Ocean. Not away, just somewhere else.
We know that the petroleum-energy industries have a pass from some environmental laws. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) exempts their toxic and radioactive waste of fluids, produced waters and other solid wastes from regulation or tracking, being classified as “industrial” rather than “hazardous.”
To fill this legal protection void, the state of Connecticut, fearing that New York will approve fracking and knowing that Pennsylvania is looking for disposal sites, has passed legislation (by a vote of 128-19) establishing a minimum three-year moratorium on the processing, storage and dumping of toxic fracking waste in Connecticut.
They are also hoping to finish the job this bill starts by enacting a permanent ban to stop the fracking industry from dumping toxic waste there.
Even the state of California is realizing that its embrace of fracking as a job-creating, wealth-producing industry will need vast amounts of water, which thirsty California does not have.
Of the states experiencing severe water shortages, most have active fracking industries. Is there a connection here?
The details of these objections are legion, encompassing public health issues, public infrastructure that cannot handle these wastes, and just plain good sense. Any other industry that has caused so many problems with health and safety would either be regulated within an inch of its life or stopped altogether. But the laws that exempt the oil and gas companies were written when they had unimaginable influence in Washington, D.C., (and still do), and most citizens are unaware of the ramifications of these laws.
In New York, state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, introduced a bill (S.5123-a/A.07503) that would have prohibited the disposal and dumping of waste from high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, which you might think would be concerned with conserving the environment, defeated the bill by a margin of 7-6, voting along party lines.
The chairman of this committee, Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, said, “I’m not actually sure that [dumping] is actually taking place,” and that he is doubtful that fracking waste is being brought into New York.
Well, Sen. Grisanti, take a drive to Allied Waste Landfill in Niagara Falls. Allied is one of the five landfill sites this newspaper and the industry itself listed as active waste dumps in our state more than a year ago. Or stop at the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Waterloo, between the Seneca and Cayuga Finger Lakes, in New York’s wine country. Perhaps you can order a case of next year’s vintage, the one that replaces the candle-lit dinner illumination requirement, since it might glow in the dark.
Grass-roots activists in New York have been effective in educating the public about this danger, and the word is getting out. The Westchester County Board of Legislators in White Plains voted unanimously (ironically just days after Sen. Tkaczyk’s bill was stalled) to prohibit the sale, application and disposal of waste products from natural gas drilling anywhere in the county. They say this is an immediate public health threat, since this waste is also produced by vertical gas wells in New York, used for de-icing and dust control on roads, and dumped in New York landfills.
Oversight from the state is lax and federal regulations are not there. So local governments must make their own. When the radium present in this material has a half-life of 1,600 years — is linked to bone, liver and breast cancers, and chemicals that are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors — what else do we need to consider? And we haven’t even talked about earthquakes.
Ask your legislators where they stand. Anybody who is still for fracking just hasn’t been paying attention. Educate yourself and talk about this. It’s your state, your family, your life.
Maybe enough of these fracking-related bills will demonstrate to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that his decision should be a resounding “no” to fracking and dumping of fracking waste in our backyards.
Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette Opinion pages.