Fracking plan cause for concern

An opinion piece in Niagara This Week

News that the Niagara Falls Water Board in New York State is mulling plans to treat fracking water at its sewage treatment plant on the U.S. side of the border should be genuine cause for concerns for many Niagara residents.

Fracking water is the by-product of a controversial practice used to extract natural gas from shale rock formations and coal beds. Fracking involves injecting a pressurized mix of water and other substances into the rock to release the trapped gas.

Environmentalists are sounding the alarm that the drinking water of people in places such as Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines, as well as Toronto, could be threatened by the nearby treatment of toxic wastewater.

Sewage treatment plants discharge effluent into waterways after treating wastewater. But there’s concern about what will be released into Lake Ontario and the Niagara River if the fracking water is treated.

Exactly how dangerous to drinking water fracking is is controversial. The practice of fracking has been banned in several jurisdictions, although in places such as British Columbia it’s accepted.

Mark Mattson, president of the non-profit group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, said the plans being considered across the border could put the primary source of drinking water for nine million people at risk. If people could potentially be at risk, you could also argue that the billions of fish swimming in the Great Lakes could be at risk.

Heaven knows, we’ve already dumped — and continue to dump — all manner of toxic goop into these once-pristine bodies of freshwater.
The Niagara Falls Water Board has apparently hired a consultant to look at whether its plant could treat the fracking fluid. The Council of Canadians group has written to the board, saying it’s concerned that fracking water will end up flowing into Lake Ontario via the Niagara River.

Ontario and New York State have a long history of responsible co-management of our shared water resources, including treaties covering how much water each side can siphon off from the Niagara River for use in hydro-electric plants.

Hopefully, our two governments will work closely on this issue. If there’s any risk to our drinking water supply, they should ban the treating of fracking water at the sewage treatment plant.

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