Capitol Connection: Fracking Friction

May 22, 2014

At the Capitol this year, you may have heard a lot of people talking about fracking. This method of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth has sparked debate across the nation. In Connecticut, the debate has led to the passage of new legislation.

But what is fracking? Can it happen in Connecticut? And why was the debate on fracking so intense in Hartford?

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, is a mining technique in which water filled with specific chemicals is pumped into the earth to create rock fractures that release natural gas and oil.

Unlike many other states, fracking cannot happen in Connecticut because our state has no known oil or gas deposits.

So, if there’s nothing to extract from Connecticut’s underground rock, why are we talking about fracking? The fracking debate in Connecticut is not focused on the process, but rather on the waste created by fracking. The big question causing all the friction is: should Connecticut welcome or ban fracking waste in our state?

The waste created by fracking is mainly excess water that was pumped into the ground. The leftover water contains chemical residue, pieces of rock, high levels of salt and radioactive material. This wastewater is not classified as hazardous waste, but the often unknown mix of chemicals and natural elements could be harmful to the environment.

Instead of just dumping the potentially dangerous waste water, it is sometimes reused for more fracking, re-injected into the ground for storage, put in retention ponds, spread out over land to evaporate, or treated and released into a body of water. All these methods raise serious questions for environmentalists, and have many people in Connecticut concerned.

Some lawmakers wanted an outright ban on fracking waste being brought into the state. Others thought a ban was premature since (a) we need more research to better understand the effects of fracking waste and (b) this waste product probably will not be coming to our state anytime soon since it costs so much to ship the waste to Connecticut from the states where fracking is occurring.

The result of the debate was compromise legislation. New law approved by the Connecticut General Assembly creates a 3 year moratorium on fracking waste being stored or disposed in Connecticut. The moratorium temporarily bans all fracking waste including de-icing products that are sometimes made from the highly salty waste. During the moratorium the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection must adopt regulations on fracking waste including, but not limited to, controlling it as a hazardous waste, imposing licensing and information disclosure requirements. The newly created regulations will be reviewed and approved by the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee no later than July 1, 2018.

I believe this compromise was a very smart decision. We all need to learn more about fracking and its waste products before we can think about storing or treating the material here. This legislation gives us the time to study the issue, learn about potential effects and craft regulations that are in everyone’s best interest.