N.J. Fracking Opponents Take Second Shot at Ban Christie Vetoed

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

New Jersey Democrats will try for a second time to prohibit fracking for natural gas in the most densely populated U.S. state, after Governor Chris Christie vetoed a ban in August and lodged a one-year moratorium.

While New Jersey produces no natural gas, the Utica Shale formation, a largely unexplored deposit running from Ontario, Canada, to Tennessee, runs 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, said Senator Robert Gordon, who sponsors it.

“Support has been growing for this, and as that support for a full ban builds, I’m hopeful we can get enough votes to override any veto,” Gordon, a Democrat from Fair Lawn, said in a telephone interview today. “The message that I want to give the governor is that I want him to put the brakes on this.”

Gordon’s measure is scheduled for a Feb. 9 hearing before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. The lawmaker said he’s optimistic the bill will be approved a second time by the Legislature, and he hopes to pick up a few votes.

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.

Drinking Water

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 natural gas. Advances in the technology have pushed gas from shale 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.

New Jersey was set to have the first statewide ban on fracking in the U.S., after Gordon’s measure passed both houses of the Legislature in June. Christie, a first-term Republican, issued a “conditional veto” of the bill in August, saying he wanted to wait for the results of two federal studies before agreeing to a permanent prohibition.

In his veto message, Christie said the “potential environmental concerns with fracking in our state must be studied and weighed carefully against the potential benefits of increasing access to natural gas in New Jersey.” His moratorium, which lawmakers agreed to last month, expires in January 2013.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on the pending legislation.

“The dangers of fracking to the environment and our water supply were well-known a year ago when this legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support,” Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, said in an e-mail. “Since they have only become even more well-known, the bill should still have that support now.”

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