New Jersey Closer to Fracking Ban

The New Jersey state legislature has approved a bill that could impose the nation’s first state-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The fracking ban passed both the Assembly (58 to 11) and the Senate (33 to 1) yesterday. The New Jersey fracking ban still must be signed into law by the state’s Republican governor, Chris Christie.

If it becomes law, the New Jersey ban would be largely symbolic, as no fracking is currently taking place in the state. However, according to Bloomberg News, communities in the northwest part of the state sit atop the Utica Shale. Though that formation, which stretches from Ontario, Canada to Tennessee, is mostly unexplored, natural gas drillers are eyeing it with interest.

“We want to get this in place so that New Jersey will be off-limits,” Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, a Democrat from Paramus and a sponsor of the measure, told Bloomberg in an interview. Wagner asserted that regulation in other states hasn’t been enough to prevent accidents that in some instances have contaminated land and water with toxic chemicals.

According to Bloomberg, the New Jersey legislation refers to a well blowout that occurred in Pennsylvania’s Leroy Township earlier this year. As we reported at the time, the accident, which occurred at a well operated by Chesapeake Energy, spewed thousands of gallons of fracking fluid onto nearby land and into a tributary of Towanda Creek. The Towanda Creek s a state-designated trout stock fishery that eventually flows into the Susquehanna River, part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In addition to the proposed ban, New Jersey environmental regulators have been pushing for strict regulations on drilling in the Delaware River basin, a watershed that provides drinking water to millions along the East Coast. Right now, drilling in the basin is on hold while the Delaware River Basin Commission drafts new rules.

It is not known if Christie will sign the New Jersey fracking ban into law. A spokesperson told Bloomberg the governor won’t comment until state lawyers review the legislation.

In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. Some of the fluid returns to the surface as brine, which may contain metals like barium and strontium and even small amounts of radioactivity. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater.

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