NEWS BLOG: Planning Commission backs fracking moratorium

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Last night, Rochester's Planning Commission recommended that City Council pass a proposed one-year moratorium on natural gas exploration and extraction. That moratorium includes the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Nobody spoke against the proposal, though several speakers did urge Council to consider a full ban. They also said they'd like to see any moratorium or ban include other drilling-related activities, such as fracking fluid treatment or injection wells on industrial sites. They said, however, that the moratorium is a good first step.

"Please do everything you can," said activist and city resident Emily Good, who stressed the potential for fracking-related water and air pollution.

City resident Charlotte Miller told the commission that fracking, or its supporting services, could drive young people out of Rochester. She wants to stay here and buy a house in the city, but she'd leave if fracking comes to town.

"I want you to want me here," Miller said.

Most if not all of the audience members who were interested in the moratorium saw the text of the legislation for the first time last night. The moratorium would technically apply to permits, certificates of zoning compliance, and variances for natural gas exploration and extraction. It doesn't explicitly prohibit other fracking-related activities, such as injection wells or fracking fluid storage, and it's unclear whether those uses would be covered by the moratorium. It's not just the drilling that matters. For example, cities could experience problems with housing, crime, and truck traffic. Even emissions from nearby gas fields could affect cities.

The legislation says that drilling could threaten city residents' health, safety, and welfare. But the purpose of the moratorium is to allow a study of fracking's effect on the city. This section of the legislation is very important for that reason:

"There has been inadequate research into the specific impacts of natural gas exploration and extraction in urban areas, where there are dense residential development, many existing industrial sites, and a large number of brownfield sites containing identified and unidentified hazardous substances or hazardous wastes. Of particular concern is the impact that the natural gas extraction method of high-volume hydraulic fracturing may have on the existing hazardous waste substances or hazardous wastes found in brownfield sites, the potential for and increased danger from seismic activity in a developed urban area, and the increased danger from any spills, emissions, or discharges due to proximity to dense, urban populations," says the legislation.

By adopting the resolution, City Council would be saying that these issues need to be studied. That's an important statement, since the state is still reviewing its environmental statement on high-volume hydraulic fracturing; the state isn't issuing permits while that review is under way.

Council will vote on the moratorium during its June 19 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 30 Church Street.

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