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County considers fracking legislation

Will fracking fracture the Dutchess County Legislature? Perhaps. For the first time county government takes up the contentious issue of fracking. It promises to be a several month-long discussion. On our agenda for discussion in September is a local law that would consider banning the use of hydraulic fracturing brine in county highway operations. Brine is defined as water that is produced as a result of hydraulic fracturing and the legislation seeks to prevent its use in pre-wetting, anti-icing or de-icing of roadways.

On the state level the issue has been debated, sometimes heatedly with good arguments coming from both environmental and energy-driven advocates. Hitherto it has not been debated in the chambers of the county government. The legislation sponsored by Democrat Joel Tyner (Clinton) and Conservative Jim Doxsey (Poughkeepise) was to come before the Government Services and Administration Committee that I chair on Sept. 6.

The agenda includes a presentation by hydrogeologist Paul Rubin, who most recently advised the Ulster County Legislature in enacting a similar ban. His presentation will describe the potential degradation of freshwater resources stemming from overland transport of gas well brines and contaminants to waterways, lakes, reservoirs and groundwater resources.

Interestingly, the conservation movements in New York and at the federal level both had their origin with concerns about our waterways. In 1870 New York, foresters had so denuded the lands that erosion was muddying the waters of commerce in the Erie Canal and potentially the Hudson River. Silt was contaminating drinking water. Reaction to this led to the 1894 constitutional amendment (adopted without a single dissenting vote) that protected forests and declared forest preserve lands as henceforth “forever wild.”

Almost a century earlier, George Washington pushed for an interstate waterways conference between Maryland and Virginia to spur commerce. Beyond the mere economic value, that conference inspired and spurred the interstate dialogue that later convened in Philadelphia, ultimately producing the U.S. Constitution.

The relation of these two conferences was highlighted by President Theodore Roosevelt in his groundbreaking Conservation Conference in 1908, “The Constitution of the United States thus grew in large part out of the necessity for united action in the wise use of our natural resources.”

The result of Roosevelt’s conference was a new national philosophy on conservation, a commitment to use natural resources efficiently, and a consideration of the role of science in creating policy to govern such resources.

These principles — smart use of our natural resources, the guiding light of science, and the dual importance of both economy and public health — should guide the County Legislature’s discussion as we commence our discussion of fracking and its byproducts in public works projects.

Michael N. Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyES@yahoo.com and visit past columns at blog.votemikekelsey.com.