The New Jersey (STONJ1) Senate for a second time moved a bill out of committee that would prohibit fracking for natural gas in the most densely populated U.S. state.
New Jersey was set to have the first U.S. statewide ban on the shale-gas extraction method known as fracking, after a bipartisan measure passed the Legislature in June. Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, issued a “conditional veto” of the bill in August, saying he wanted a one-year moratorium while he waited for the results of two federal studies.
Democratic lawmakers’ push for a fracking ban is “nonsense,” Christie told reporters today in Trenton. There is no urgency for such a prohibition in a state that doesn’t produce natural gas, he said.
“Really? We’re going to ban fracking in a state where no one wants to frack?” Christie said. “Even if we say the practice is good, nobody’s coming here to frack. There’s no shale. This is the type of nonsense they engage in because they’re grappling for political advantage.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process by which companies inject water, sand and chemicals under high pressure thousands of feet underground to break up shale-rock formations and release trapped gas. Advances in the technology have pushed shale gas to almost 30 percent of U.S. production in the past 15 years, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department.
Environmental groups say fracking contaminates drinking water and pollutes the air. The Environmental Protection Agency is studying the issue and weighing nationwide regulations. France and Bulgaria have banned the practice, while Ohio is considering tougher drilling rules in response to unprecedented earthquakes in fracking areas.
Christie’s moratorium, which lawmakers agreed to last month, expires in January. The delay in deciding on a permanent prohibition will allow government to “study the environmental effects of fracking so we have a factual scientific basis to make a judgment on this practice,” Christie said today.
While New Jersey produces no natural gas, the Utica Shale formation, a largely unexplored deposit running from Ontario, Canada, to Tennessee (STOTN1), lies partly under Warren and Sussex counties in the state’s northwest. A ban would head off future fracking in an area that provides almost half of New Jersey with drinking water, Senator Robert Gordon, a Democrat from Fair Lawn who sponsored the bill, said in a Feb. 6 telephone interview.
The measure unanimously passed the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and is headed to the full Senate. It also needs Assembly approval before it can reach Christie’s desk.
Democrats control the Assembly, 48-32, and the Senate, 24-16, and would need a two-thirds majority, or 54 members in the Assembly and 27 in the Senate, to override Christie vetoes.
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