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Grisanti proposes fracking safeguards; Bill would prohibit treatment of water at public facilities

State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti on Friday announced legislation that would prohibit treatment of water from hydraulic fracturing at public facilities statewide, create a tracking program for the waste and enact other environmental safeguards.

But Grisanti, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation, said he would not support or oppose the controversial gas drilling process until the state completes its final environmental impact study.

"It's preliminary," he said. "It's too early to tell."

As Grisanti was confronted by environmental activists demanding a complete ban on fracking, his chief political opponent called for more education on the issue before any action is taken.

"We need to see the full scope of their final draft of regulations before we rush to start the drilling," former Erie County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick said as he urged consideration of alternative energy methods.

While four environmental groups lauded Grisanti for the environmental safeguards, a vocal cohort of anti-fracking activists and Occupy Buffalo protesters gathered Friday in the Mahoney State Office Building to pepper him with questions about the effects of fracking.

"I have encountered no single issue as critical, controversial and important as high-volume hydraulic fracturing," Grisanti said. "Should the DEC ultimately decide to allow for [fracking], I strongly believe environmental safeguards are needed."

Green groups Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Earthworks, Environmental Advocates of New York and Natural Resources Defense Council applauded Grisanti for "recognizing the lack of oversight and real dangers associated with fracking wastes."

But organizers from Food & Water Watch, who held large anti-fracking signs during Grisanti's news conference, said it didn't go far enough.

"There is more to fracking than the waste it creates, and these bills do not take that into consideration," said Rita Yelda, the group's organizer. "The legislation introduced by Senator Grisanti is full of loopholes and would fail to protect Western New Yorkers from fracking's threats to our health, economy and environment."

Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families party, said the bills "pave the way" for statewide fracking to begin.

If passed, the legislation would appear to put an end to efforts to treat the fracking fluid at wastewater treatment plants in Niagara Falls or North Tonawanda, which officials have said are capable of treating such water.

"In my opinion, they don't have the capacity," Grisanti said. "They can pretreat it, but you don't want the end result to be dumped in the Niagara Gorge."

He said a private treatment plant is being built in Pennsylvania to treat the fracking water from Pennsylvania, Ohio and other places where the Marcellus Shale makes gas drilling especially lucrative.

Grisanti's legislation also aims to prohibit the use of wastewater for road- and land-spreading; create an oil and gas waste tracking program stronger than one proposed under the draft environmental impact statement; strengthen notification requirements for wastewater spills and create a geographic information system for the public on gas and oil production.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to finalize its environmental impact statement and could make a decision on fracking as early as July.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com