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Proposed ‘fracking’ ban goes to Pelham Town Meeting

About 30 residents filled Community Hall Thursday for a meeting of the Conservation Commission to discuss a proposed bylaw establishing a townwide ban on “fracking” — the practice of drilling underground for natural gas or oil — and related activities. The measure will be voted on at the annual Town Meeting May 3.

The bylaw was proposed by the Neighbor to Neighbor group of residents who have been discussing their concerns about fracking and other environmental issues for more than three years.

The group initially brought the issue to the Conservation Commission on March 13, seeking a ban on fracking in wetlands and endangered species habitats. At that meeting, Neighbor to Neighbor member Michael Hussin, of Gulf Road, described the environmental dangers that have been connected to fracking in other states. He told the commission that fracking has been linked to earthquakes in Ohio and flammable drinking water in Texas and Oklahoma due to the chemicals used in the drilling process.

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

MacDonald invited members of several town boards and departments to discuss the proposal at Thursday’s meeting. Members of the Board of Health, Energy Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals were among those who turned out.

Also in attendance was Stephen Mabee, the state geologist in residence at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who said he does not believe Pelham is at risk for fracking because the underground rock is not porous enough to produce oil.

“I just don’t think it will ever happen because you just don’t have the rock,” he said.

Neighbor to Neighbor member Georganne Greene, of North Valley Road, acknowledged that Pelham is not a likely drilling site, but pointed out that the group is also concerned with the possibility of related activities such as the storage and disposal of fracking byproducts.

In order to extract the oil and gases from underground, millions of gallons of chemically-treated water are sent at high pressure into the rock, Hussin explained at the March 13 meeting. The waste that comes back up is called “flowback water.” The group is concerned that this wastewater from fracking in other states would be sent to Pelham for disposal.

Neighbor to Neighbor member Maital Levy, of North Valley Road, said she believes the ban has value as a preventive measure.

“There has been many different types of catastrophes in the world, and we say, ‘We can’t believe that ever happened,’ ” she said.

The group also aims to draw the attention of state legislators to a bill calling for a 10-year statewide fracking ban that has been approved by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Hussin said that while there are currently state regulations against fracking, he believes that without a broad law in place, industries can still find “loopholes.”

“I feel good,” he said about Thursday’s meeting. “We had a lot of different voices and questions raised, and that’s one of the things we really wanted to have happen.”

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