State lawmakers are moving once again to ban the dumping of fracking waste in New Jersey. But, not so fast, say some of the environmentalists who have pushed the proposal for years.
Legislation (S-678) that would ban the practice, a bill previously twice vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie, won approval earlier this month from the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.
But the same groups that backed a prohibition in the past now want to hold off sending it to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. Instead, they want to press the governor, one of the five members of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), to focus on another fracking ban pending on that agency’s agenda.
The DRBC is expected to vote this fall on a new rule that would ban the practice of fracking, the process of injecting massive amounts of water, sand and chemicals into shale formations to extract natural gas, within the basin.
That part of the rule is widely backed by environmentalists, but they oppose another provision in the regulation that would allow disposal of wastewater from fracking operations within the region. They would prefer to see a basin-wide ban than one only preventing such discharges in New Jersey.
“Our main priority should be getting all fracking activities banned in the basin through the DRBC, and making sure Murphy keeps his commitment to do so,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
In February, Murphy said he backed both a ban on fracking and on the dumping of waste within the basin, too. The New Jersey governor is now chairman of the commission.
Beyond the prohibition against discharge of fracking waste, most environmentalists also oppose another key provision in the DRBC rule, one that would allow water withdrawals from within the basin to support fracking operations outside the region.
Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset), the sponsor of the bill, argued passing the New Jersey legislation does not exclude backers of a more expansive ban from pursuing that option.
Lena Smith of Food & Water Watch urged the legislators to press forward with the bill, which would make New Jersey the first state to ban disposal of fracking waste. “It would be a way of strengthening the DBRC rule,’’ she said.
Ed Waters of the Chemistry Industry Council, however, argued that passage of the bill would send negative messages about how fracking hurts the state economy.
In the end, the committee agreed to go along with the ban, while also agreeing to post a resolution at its next meeting expressing concerns about the DRBC rule.