Fracking brine nixed for de-icing roads

| 26 Apr 2013 | 08:14

By Edie Johnson
— The ingredients that make up fracking brine, which is sometimes used as a cheap alternative to road salt, are mysterious to many. But Legislator Jeffrey Berkman of Middletown said, "We know for sure that it has chemicals."

Some large cities have already started using the salty mix, which is the byproduct of hydrofracking, a controversial deep-drilling method in which huge amounts of water mixed with chemicals are injected deep into shale rock to create fissures that release natural gas. Advocates say fracking brine is more efficient and economical than road salt in de-icing roads. Natural gas drillers are eager to get rid of the waste fluid, which is a "consumptive water use," meaning it cannot be recycled.

There's been much public suspicion regarding the chemical mix, especially since drillers refuse to divulge the ingredients, calloing them "proprietary trade secrets."

Legislators supporting the use of fracking brine say seminars have taught them the brine is perfectly safe. One legislator had heard the mix was "99 percent pure water."

But most other legislators were dubious and asked for further study and disclosure of the ingredients. They were also concerned that brine mixtures may differ, depending on the vendor.

Berkman said he discovered an Ulster County company pushing the product.

Public Works Commissioner Chuck Lee asked that the decision be left to his department, subject to a guarantee of safety by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Berkman said, "This is exactly why we need to prohibit it. You don't have to be a scientist to know it's not pristine water. The DEC is subject to its own group of lobbyists and pressure groups."

He said the committee's decision applied only to "production brine."

Lee called the controversy "a bunch of hype," and said he would use it "if I could get it for 2 cents rather than 7 cents."

"It could be safer than what is in the salt products we are using now," Lee said.

Lee said his department has not yet ever used fracking brine.

"All the more reason why you should not object to the resolution," Berkman responded.

The measure, which carries a fine of up to $25,000 for the use of fracking brine, will be presented to the full legislature next week.

In addition to the safety question, legislators said they wanted municipalities to be able to make their own policy about the use of this controversial substance.