Buffalo, N.Y., Bans Fracking in Groundbreaking Vote (With Video)

Citizens and clean water advocates heralded N.Y.'s Buffalo Common Council’s move to become the first city in New York State—and the second major city nationwide—to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. The Common Council passed “Buffalo's Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance” today by a 9-0 vote, following months of citizen lobbying by Frack Action Buffalo, a local grassroots group.

At a a press conference following the vote, victims of fracking in New York joined Buffalo Common Coucilmembers and former New York State Senator Antoine Thompson in praising the ban. Thompson was the sponsor of the statewide moratorium on fracking passed in August.

Buffalo, which sits atop areas of the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, follows in the footsteps of Pittsburgh, PA, which passed a similar ban in November 2010. The Buffalo law prohibits drillers from fracking for gas in Buffalo, and bars the disposal of drilling wastewater or other production wastes within city limits.


The inclusion of drilling wastes sets the Buffalo legislation apart from Pittsburgh's, and zeroes in on what has proved a contentious issue for the gas industry in Pennsylvania: what to do with the millions of gallons of wastewater generated by the process, which can contain carcinogens, volatile organic compounds, and even radioactive material. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection came under fire last month when the Associated Press reported that the DEP authorized the discharge of at least 3.6 million barrels of fracking wastewater into rivers and streams across the state with minimal to no treatment. According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation documents, wastewater from vertical fracking wells in New York has already been accepted by Buffalo water treatment facilities.

The Buffalo ordinance was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, with additional aid from the Community Environmental Defense Council. Frack Action Buffalo gathered 1,650 signatures in support of the ordinance over several months.

The bill's sponsor, Buffalo Common Councilmember Joseph Golombek (D) told the Buffalo News, "When it comes to the safety of our residents and protecting our environment, we do have a responsibility."

“Buffalo is leading the way,” said Rita Yelda, a student at Buffalo State and Organizer with Frack Action Buffalo. “And we urge other cities and towns to pass similar bans.  We want to tell Albany: we will stand up in defense of our communities if you will not."

“The gas industry has shown again and again that fracking cannot be done safely, and that there is no good answer for what to do with the massive quantities of highly-toxic wastewater created in the process. In passing this ban, the City of Buffalo sent a message to cities and towns across New York that the threat posed by fracking is real, and that nothing short of a ban will protect us,” said Claire Sandberg, Campaign Director of Frack Action.

In December, former Governor David Paterson signed an Executive Order imposing a timeout on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing until June. Executive Order #41 bars new horizontal drilling in New York and called for a revised draft of the heavily-critized draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS). The Executive Order followed two landslide bipartisan votes by the Senate and Assembly in support a moratorium. Environmental groups praised Paterson for imposing the nation's first statewide moratorium on fracking, but criticized the Order for failing to include vertical gas wells, which are already in use in Western NY. A revised dSGEIS will be released on or around on or around June 1, 2011, and be followed by a new round of public comment.

Fracking is unregulated at the federal due to exemptions in federal environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.