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Legislative Committee OKs Fracking Moratorium

By ecoRI News staff

BOSTON — The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture has approved a 10-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking. The committee’s approval of a bill introduced by Reps. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and Denise Provost, D-Somerville, came after Environment Massachusetts and its allies presented the committee with documented cases of water contamination, illness and other damage from fracking operations elsewhere.

“From Pennsylvania to Colorado, fracking has contaminated water, threatened residents’ health and turned rural landscapes into industrial zones,” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts. “Thanks to the leadership of Chairs Anne Gobi and Mark Pacheco, we are now one step closer to protecting the Pioneer Valley from dirty drilling.”

Concern over fracking in the Bay State has been growing since last year, when an industry-affiliated organization met with landowners in western Massachusetts to discuss the prospects for fracking there. Moreover, as New York mulls over large-scale fracking, drilling operators could soon view western Massachusetts as a convenient dumping ground for toxic fracking wastewater.

"All you have to do is look at the overlap of shale and water resources in the Pioneer Valley, and you know we cannot allow fracking — or its toxic waste — to come to Massachusetts,” Provost said.

“Our state government must do everything it can to protect our drinking water supplies,” Kocot said. “This bill will help to ensure that the health and prosperity of our communities is maintained."

Bill H.788 would protect the state from both of these threats by barring fracking and its wastewater, for at least a decade. Vermont has already enacted a similar law, and Environment Massachusetts’ sister organizations are working to stop fracking and its toxic waste in nearly a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Laced with cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, fracking wastewater has contaminated drinking water sources. For western Massachusetts, such threats are heightened by the fact that many communities in the Pioneer Valley rely on groundwater as their sole source of drinking water.

In addition to contaminating drinking water, fracking and its toxic waste poses myriad other threats to the environment and public health, including air pollution, land degradation and increased greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent Environment Massachusetts report.

The bill to stop fracking still has several hurdles to clear before it reaches Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk — most notably, the vociferous opposition of the oil and gas industry.

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