A small town in western Massachusetts has apparently become the first in the state to enact a bylaw aimed at hydraulic fracturing. Opponents of the controversial gas drilling practice hope it will raise the profile of the issue in the state and encourage the legislature to enact a drilling moratorium.
During Town over the weekend, Pelham, Massachusetts voted unanimously to ban hydraulic fracturing and establish a bylaw prohibiting the storage, use or disposal in the town of the wastewater from so-called fracking operations.
Michael Hussin, a member of a community group that proposed the bylaw, said Pelham is the first town in the state to take such action. He described it as a preventative measure to raise awareness of the problems of disposing of the millions of gallons of toxic waste water produced by the drilling.
"This is an issue that has been overlooked. This going to be affecting communities all around western Massachusetts."
Hussin said he hoped other communities would follow Pelham’s lead and encourage state legislators to act on a bill that calls for a 10-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
" We're hoping it drives that bill and gives legislators more incentive to move ahead."
The U.S. Geological Survey announced in 2012 the discovery of shale gas deposits in the Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts. But the petroleum industry insists commercial drilling in the region is highly unlikely.
Ben Hellerstein, field associate with Environment Massachusetts, said the group has been campaigning since last fall to build public awareness.
" We are hopeful our state legislators take action this session to make sure fracking never comes to our state."
Democratic State Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst is a co-sponsor of the bill to ban fracking in Massachusetts.
" A number of us think there are too many uncertainties about it, too many potential dangers. It makes sense to wait until there is more research and more information."
Story said any move to drill for natural gas in western Massachusetts would not be well received.
" People would have a fit if there was a proposed site for hydraulic fracturing. There would be organized opposition to it out here."
Town meetings over the weekend in Leverett, Plainfield, Cummington, and Worthington approved resolutions opposing natural gas pipelines. This adds to growing opposition to plans for a 179- mile gas pipeline from the New York border to Dracut, Massachusetts that would cut through several western and central Massachusetts towns.
Also,a legislative deal has been struck in Connecticut on how the state deals with waste from other states from fracking drilling operations. Lawmakers initially considered a ban but the compromise OK'd by the Senate creates a moratorium instead until the state sets regulations on the issue.
New York continues a de facto moratorium on drilling while state officials and the governor complete a health impact review.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Plainville town meeting had approved a resolution opposing natural gas pipelines.