Governor Murky on Support for Bill Banning Fracking Wastewater

Tom Johnson | June 28, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Town Hall question fails to clear up questions on just how much out-of-state waste from natural gas drilling is accepted in NJ

Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Gov. Christie at Brick Town Hall.
Gov. Chris Christie yesterday dodged a question whether he would sign a bill banning wastewater treatment plants in New Jersey from accepting waste from natural gas drilling operations, but said such waste has been accepted in the past.

At a town hall meeting in Brick Township, the governor declined to say how he would act on a bill (S-253) to ban the waste from so-called hydraulic fracturing from being accepted by such facilities, saying it has not happened for a number of months.

The practice, dubbed fracking by opponents who fear it will harm drinking water supplies for up to a million people in New Jersey, has emerged as an increasingly bone of contention between environmentalists and the Christie administration. Just how much so was reflected in the governor’s response.

“My understanding is it’s been some time since any fracking wastewater has been brought into the state,’’ Christie said in a response to a question from the audience. That response conflicted with what the state Department of Environmental Protection told a Senate committee considering the bill.

In a hearing before the state Senate Environment and Energy Committee earlier this month, John Hazen, director of legislative affairs for the DEP, said both his agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent out letters last year to all of New Jersey’s wastewater treatment facilities, requiring them to notify the agencies of any request to treat fracking waste.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t received any inquires as of this time,’’ Hazen told the committee.

None of the drilling for natural gas has occurred in New Jersey, but that has hardly lessened opposition to the practices. Foes fear the drilling operations may threaten the drinking water supplies of 15 million people in the Delaware River Basin, including more than 1 million in New Jersey who rely on the river for their potable water supplies.

Fracking involves the injection of huge quantities of water, as well as some smaller amount of chemicals, into shale formations where large deposits of natural gas have been found. It has fueled a boom in natural gas supplies, which have helped to lower electricity prices for consumers and businesses.

Christie gave little hint on how he would act on the wastewater ban bill.

“Unlike Washington, I won’t sign it until I read it,’’ Christie said in a response to a question.

But he also was critical of people pushing for a ban on fracking operations.

“It doesn’t help the credibility of a cause when the Legislature passes a bill banning fracking in New Jersey when no one wants to frack in New Jersey and there is no natural gas in New Jersey,’’ he said.

Christie did concede the wastewater dispute was a different issue. “If I think it makes sense, I will sign it,’’ he said.

For the most part, foes of fracking claim the state’s wastewater treatment plants are not designated to remove all of the contaminants from drilling operations, particularly naturally occurring radioactive elements.

“There has been some stuff coming in,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Why do we accept out-of-state pollution?’’