Activists ask Pelham Conservation Commission to back ban on ‘fracking’

Thursday, March 20, 2014
PELHAM — Several residents have taken the first step toward making Pelham among the first communities in the state to ban hydraulic fracturing — the practice of drilling underground for natural gas or oil, commonly known as “fracking.”

About 10 members of the Pelham group Neighbor to Neighbor, who have been discussing their concerns about fracking for more than two years, asked the Conservation Commission Thursday to ban it in wetlands and endangered species habitats. The group also wants the commission to support a bylaw establishing a townwide ban on fracking and all related activities.

Group member Michael Hussin, of Gulf Road, said that while there are currently no efforts to begin drilling in town, the group aims to be proactive by banning it. “It seems to us it would be good not to be complacent, and take action when we can,” he said.

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He said he believes Pelham would be the first town in the state to ban fracking. Across the country, more than 400 communities already have banned fracking, he said, and in 2012 Vermont became the first state to impose a ban.

State Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, told the commission she supports a ban. She was invited by Hussin because she is co-sponsor of a bill that calls for a 10-year statewide fracking ban. The bill has been approved by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Story said she does not believe the bill will move much further, but if more communities deal with the issue locally, legislators would be more likely to pay attention.

“If there is a groundswell, people start asking about it,” Story said. “The legislature is very reactive. We are seldom proactive.”

She added, “This is one of those issues where, sometimes, the populace is way ahead of the government.”

In other states, fracking has been linked to earthquakes and flammable drinking water due to the chemicals used in the drilling process, Hussin told the Conservation Commission. There are residents in Texas and Oklahoma who can turn on their taps and set their water on fire, he said.

In order to extract the gases from underground, millions of gallons of chemically-treated water are sent at high pressure into the rock, Hussin explained. The waste that comes back up is called “flowback water.”

Hussin said the group also is concerned that wastewater from fracking in other states would be sent to Pelham for disposal. In addition to asking for a ban on fracking, the proposed bylaw asks the town to ban the storage and disposal of this wastewater and other by-products from fracking.

Conservation Commission Chairman Dana MacDonald said he believes a townwide bylaw with broad support would be a better approach to the issue than it would be for the commission to ban fracking only in certain areas.

MacDonald said he will invite members of several town boards and departments — including the Select Board, Planning Board, Department of Public Works, and Board of Health — to discuss the proposed ban at 7 p.m. March 27 at a place to be determined. MacDonald added that he also will invite representatives from gas companies who might want to speak in favor of fracking.