New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday joined neighboring governors in backing a ban on hydraulic fracturing, making a prohibition on the controversial natural-gas drilling practice in the Delaware River Basin much more likely.
At a press conference in Phillipsburg on the banks of the Delaware River, Murphy also said he is opposed to the dumping of fracking waste within the basin and withdrawal of water within the watershed to be used in drilling operations outside the basin.
Both of the latter steps, as is a ban within the watershed, are pending under proposed regulationsby the Delaware River Basin Commission and are strongly opposed by a coalition of environmental organizations.
Murphy’s announcement, like a handful of others he has made in public events this week, reverses policies embraced by the Christie administration. More importantly, it appears to have all four states on the interstate agency united in their goal to ban the practice, which has led to steep declines in the price of natural gas and boosted the region’s economy.
Fracking is the practice in which huge amounts of water, along with a smaller mixture of toxic chemicals, is injected into shale formations to extract the natural gas. No such drilling occurs in New Jersey, but it is widespread in parts of Pennsylvania outside the Delaware Basin, where a de facto moratorium is in place.
Backed by most business groups, the practice has helped usher in cheap natural gas that has dramatically changed the energy sector and led to lower prices to consumers to heat their homes. Opponents fear expanded fracking will pollute the Delaware River, the drinking water source for 15 million people in four states.
“Today, we reverse course,’’ Murphy told a gathering of supporters at Union Square on the river’s edge, saying the banning of fracking will protect the public’s health and safety, which are at risk from the drilling.
Murphy also sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, the chairman of the DRBC, announcing his support for a ban, which is likely to be voted on by the commission later this year.
The commission’s regulations, as drafted, would allow the dumping of fracking wastewater within the basin, as well as permit withdrawal of water in the watershed to be used in fracking operations. Murphy opposes both, he said.
“Conceptually, we don’t like either of those. We want to make sure we’re on firm legal ground,’’ Murphy said, in a response to a question.
His announcement drew praise from many of the environmentalists who have been pressing for a ban for years.
“Today, the Delaware River has come one step closer to full protection of the watershed, the water supply for up to 17 million people, including millions in New Jersey,’’ said Tracy Carlucccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Our goal is to achieve a ban on fracking, including a ban on the discharge of frack wastewater and the export of Delaware River Watershed water for fracking elsewhere. And today Gov. Murphy has brought us closer than ever before to a vote for this critical protective action.’’
Amy Goldsmith, New Jersey director of Clean Water Action, said the step is important to the state’s efforts to lead to a 100 percent clean-energy future by 2050. “All steps taken to prevent fossil fuel production, distribution, and pollution is a step in the right direction,’’ she said.