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Seven Days: Written Thanks to a Generous Stipend from the Heritage Foundation

High-volume, deep-well, horizontal hydro-fracking party tricks.

Follow The Fracking Water

Last week in this column, we reported that US Energy, a regional natural gas driller headquartered in Getzville, had told the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that it intended to dispose of the fracking fluid it used in natural gas wells through the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s wastewater treatment facility. We based that report on a US Energy filing with DEC from 2008. David Comerford, who heads the Buffalo Sewer Authority, told us last week that his agency had never received wastewater from natural gas drilling operations. In fact, Comerford said, only one company, from Ohio, had ever asked the Sewer Authority to accept such waste, and that inquiry had gone nowhere because the Ohio company had declined to provide a manifest of the fracking fluid’s contents.

It turns out that may not be true. In the last week, we’ve come across three more of US Energy’s permit applications to DEC for different wells. These filings were made in 2010, and all listed the Buffalo Sewer Authority as a potential recipient of the fracking fluid produced by the wells. (You can view them on AV Daily at And Comerford, who told us last week that the Sewer Authority had no contract to accept wastewater from US Energy, allowed that the authority did have a contract with Waste Technology of Lewiston, a middleman in the waste disposal industry that ships wastewater for US Energy. Comerford tells us he asked Waste Technology if the wastewater the company was pumping into the Buffalo treatment system, which discharges into the Niagara River, was from drilling operations. Comerford says that Waste Technology assured him that it was “just water,” but admitted that the fluid came from gas drilling sites.

The company called it “runoff,” according to Comerford, though where it could have run off from besides the holding ponds that receive fracking fluid is anyone’s guess. Gary Hall, the president of Waste Technology Services, did not return a call seeking comment. Neither did Doug Walch, president of US Energy, Last week, Walch dispatched the executive director of his trade association, the International Oil and Gas Association, to handle our inquiries. But that industry spokesman, Brad Gill, won’t return our phone calls, either.

Fracking fluid consists primarily of water and sand, mixed with a cocktail of chemicals that includes many toxins and known carcinogens: methanol, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, napthalene, benzene, toluene, and xylene, to name just a few. About one quarter of the fluid used returns to the surface, where it is supposed to be stored in lined pits and eventually trucked away for disposal on premises licensed to handle the contaminants. Three quarters of the fluid remains underground, and has been blamed for incidences of groundwater contamination across the region and the country.

So are these chemicals and dozens of others being flushed into the Niagara River or not? How many US Energy wells are permitted by DEC on the understanding that the Buffalo Sewer Authority might receive the wastewater they produce?

The DEC tells us that the Buffalo Sewer Authority has never declared its intention to receive fracking fluid. In fact, the only facility in New York State to specifically request to be licensed to receive fracking fluid is in Jefferson County, according to a DEC spokesman.

US Energy’s permits applications with the DEC list one other possible recipient of wastewater from its wells: a private wastewater treatment facility in Warren, Pennsylvania, a state which permits high-volume, deep-well, horizontal fracking, in addition to the vertical fracking that is allowed in New York. The DEC spokesman says that his agency has no review process in place to ensure that the Warren facility is permitted to and capable of handling the toxins in fracking fluid. (We checked: It is permitted, but the head of Warren’s public works says even after the private facility treats the frack water, it is not discharged into municipal sewers. And Warren’s public works department has not sought a state permit to accept fracking fluid because of issues related to the facility’s age and treatment capacities.) Should high-volume horizontal fracking be approved this summer, the DEC spokesman said, those permits will require that drilling companies demonstrate clearly how they will dispose of the millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater produced by each horizontally fracked well.

Comerford says that the Buffalo Sewer Authority tests the waste it receives from industrial clients three times a year, and that they have never detected anything of concern in the fluid they’ve received from Waste Technology. The Sewer Authority made nearly $2 million—about 3.5 percent of total revenue—for handling wastewater from industrial clients in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. (gk)

Books Bite the Dust

If you’re trying to wrap your head around the massive book weeding operation at the downtown branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, we have more statistics to ponder.

According to emails received from library spokesperson Joy Testa-Cinquino, the B&ECPL is not required to keep a tally of how many books were offered for public sale during book sales, donated to not-for-profit groups by written request, saved for future book sales, or recycled—nor do they have the staff to do so.

As for the de-accessioned—or “dusty book”—report we wrote about last week, we now know that nonfiction books made the list if they had not been checked out of the library in five years. If a fiction title hadn’t made it out of the library in two years, it also made the list. In all, 32,349 books fit those criteria last fall. The number does not include A/V materials like DVDs, videos, and CDs, nor does it include large-print materials or government documents. Just books. “Being on the list does not mean they are automatically discarded,” says Testa-Cinquino.

For all of 2010, print discards including de-accessioned items, missing, and damaged materials reached 67,019 at the downtown branch. Meanwhile, 27,746 new print items were added to the collection last year, making for a 40,000 overall reduction in things that need cataloging. Minimal weeding had occurred over the previous three years.

What drove the disproportionately large weeding project last year? In 2009, the library received a $1.6 million efficiency grant from the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority to replace the barcodes that are scanned by an employee at the checkout desk with radio frequency identification technology. The new technology will enable library patrons to do a “self checkout,” thus eliminating the employee. Problem is, the technology is expensive. So expensive, they couldn’t put it in every book they had in the collection. So they decided to downsize the collection.

“In addition the library is consolidating collections to the first floor of the Central Library for additional efficiency purposes,” Testa-Cinquino explains.

What’s next in this brave new world? My money says there will be an exciting new medical startup company, flush with government cash, renting space in the ghost town that is the medical corridor. They will work tirelessly on a patent that will deliver books in pill form. It should create hundreds, if not thousands of good paying jobs. (bq)

Antoine Thompson Loses Another Vote

We’re told that in the aftermath of her re-election as chair of the Erie County Legislature, Barbara Miller-Williams floated the idea of replacing long-time Clerk of the Legislature Robert Graber with Antoine Thompson, who has been out of work since Mark Grisanti assumed the 60th District State Senate Seat at the beginning of the year.

Miller-Williams denied that she’d done so to another Artvoice reporter, but we’re betting that our two disinterested sources trump her hand.

The Clerk of the Legislature must circulate a petition each year to retain the position, which a majority of legislators must sign. Graber, a Democrat who is popular with his own party and with Republicans, did so. Miller-Williams could find no support for Thompson among the coalition of six Republicans and three Democrats who re-elected her to the chair this year, so her effort to displace Graber and find Thompson a new gig died.

We spoke to Thompson regarding another matter this week, and he says that he’s “enjoying the transition” from the life of a state senator. He declined to say what was next for him, but assured us it would involve public service. (gk)

Antoine Thompson's staff's last stand.

Room 305 is Shut Down

As it happens, we also spoke this week with Antoine Thompson’s former chief of staff, Mark Boyd. Boyd, along with a handful of menials who owed their jobs to the deposed senator, have been allowed to stay on the state payroll for an extra month so far, and one source tells us that they may continue to work for the “State Senate Minority Administration” clear through to St. Patrick’s Day.

Boyd told us that he expected that his employment might continue for another month, at best. He and his compadres and have been occupying Room 305 in the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building in downtown Buffalo. He declined to explain what exactly he’d been working on since vacating Thompson’s office, during which transition Thompson’s staff had thrown away or shredded most of the office’s records, leaving his successor at a disadvantage dealing with ongoing constituent business. Boyd said he was not authorized to speak on behalf of his current employer.

At press time, Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the State Senate’s Democrats, had not responded to questions regarding Boyd’s employment.

In any case, Boyd and company’s occupation of Room 305 came to an end Tuesday evening at five o’clock. A memo from the majority Republicans in Albany informed Grisanti’s local staff on Tuesday that “Rooms 305 and 200 are being vacated today, locks changed.” (gk)

Meet the New Boss

Also on Tuesday, State Senate Republicans—who like to pretend that Democrats, in their two brief years in the majority, descended into depths of corruption and arrogance that Republicans had never dreamed existed in the previous decades—tried to jam through rules changes. Among the changes was a measure that would have deprived Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, a Democrat, of his tie-breaking vote when the State Senate is deadlocked.

Republicans enjoy a narrow, 32-30 majority, and their conference is only marginally more stable than the fractious Democratic minority. (Four Democrats have already peeled off to form their own conference, and were rewarded by Republicans this week with committee chairmanships and the attending pay bonuses.) So Duffy’s vote, granted to him as president of the State Senate, could come into play.

“Today, the GOP took the Senate from dysfunction into total darkness,” Democratic Conference leader John Sampson said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “Rushing through secretive changes to the rules of the Senate without public input or oversight disenfranchises millions of New Yorkers. Without openness, transparency and accountability in the legislative process, the public will never know if their interests are being represented.”

A week earlier, the Democratic minority, perhaps anticipating the Republican attempt to bend the body’s rules to their favor, issued their own slate of reform proposals—things like equal distribution of office space, staff funding, and mad money to all senators, regardless of party or seniority. In short, they sought rules changes in line with the old dictum “To the winners and losers alike goes an equitable share of the spoils.” The posture went unnoticed.

New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has been scolding Albany for years, said the Republican proposal was a mixed bag: It retained term limits for leadership positions, and it continued provisions that allow senators to bring bills to the floor for a vote without the approval of party leadership. (Which means that if your senator promises you something, he or she can’t blame a failure at least to call a vote on anyone else.) Those changes were made under the Democratic majority.

“But little has been done to improve the rules,” writes the Brennan Center’s John Travis, noting a failure to increase the power of rank-and-file senators and to make the committee system more active and accountable.

Both the Brennan Center and Democrats complain that the Republicans did not release the proposed changes until two hours before the Rules Committee met on Tuesday to review them. In any case, the committee, chaired by Tom Libous, failed to discharge the rules changes for a vote on the floor, because Libous failed to recognize that the absence of a Republican senator from the meeting deprived him of the 13th vote that discharge required. Very likely he’ll try again next week. (gk)

geoff kelly & buck quigley

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