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Lawmakers Mount Another Push to Keep 'Fracking' Waste Out of State

'Greens' worry about drinking water, businesses believe ban could mean higher prices for natural gas

Assemblywoman Grace Spencer
Assemblywoman Grace Spencer

The Legislature is once again trying to ban waste generated by drilling operations for natural gas in neighboring states from being dumped in New Jersey.

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee yesterday approved a bill (A-2108) that would prohibit waste from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") -- a process that extracts natural gas from shale formations -- from being disposed of in New Jersey.

The issue is a recurring source of controversy between environmentalists and business groups. The former fear that fracking could jeopardize drinking water supplies, particularly those relying on the Delaware River. Business groups worry that restrictions would constrain plentiful natural gas supplies that have driven down gas and electric prices.

The practice of extracting natural gas from shale formations is contentious because it involves pumping massive amounts of water and a much smaller amount of chemicals into the shale.

The bill already has been approved by the state Senate and needs only approval from the Assembly to be forwarded to the governor. But Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure in the prior legislative session, saying the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from enacting discriminatory laws governing interstate commerce.

There is no drilling for natural gas in New Jersey, but environmentalists are concerned that waste from other states may be shipped to wastewater treatment plants here that may not be equipped to handle it.

“Fracking waste has already entered New Jersey and without immediate action, our communities face the prospects of more toxic, radioactive water importation and grave risks for our families,’’ said Jim Walsh, of Food & Water Watch.

Dave Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action, argued the administration’s claim that the bill would not pass constitutional muster is contradicted by an Office of Legislative Services opinion. “We don’t want this stuff dumped in New Jersey,’’ he said.

But opponents disagreed, saying the new supplies of natural gas have helped drive down both electric and gas costs for consumers and businesses.

“We are now positioning America as a leading supplier of natural gas,’’ said Jim Benton, executive director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council. In the unusual cold last winter, those supplies helped the state utilities continue to heat homes in New Jersey-- at much lower costs than in past winters, Benton said.

Other business groups also opposed the measure, including the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the New Jersey Chemistry Industry Council, and the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce.

But Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex), the chairwoman of the committee, said this bill is important to the state.

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