Issuing a one-year moratorium on “fracking,” Gov. Chris Christie today issued a conditional veto of S-2576, recommending changes to the legislation that balances protecting New Jersey’s environment and drinking water and encouraging cleaner energy alongside the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
As currently written, S-2576 would permanently prohibit fracking in New Jersey, a drilling technique used for the exploration or production of natural gas, even as concurrent studies on the practice are underway by the federal government and no known natural gas deposits necessitating use of the fracking process have been proposed for development in New Jersey.
“I share many of the concerns expressed by the legislators that sponsored this bill and the environmental advocates seeking a permanent moratorium on fracking. We must ensure that our environment is protected and our drinking water is safe,” said Christie. “I am placing a one-year moratorium on fracking so that the DEP can further evaluate the potential environmental impacts of this practice in New Jersey as well as evaluate the findings of still outstanding and ongoing federal studies.”
The governor’s office said the legislature pushed the fracking bill at the same time that two federal agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Department of Energy (USDOE) – were studying the environmental impact of fracking.
While the USDOE issued preliminary recommendations over the past two weeks outlining immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas development, including the development of best practices, a final report by the USDOE is not expected until November 2011 and the preliminary findings of USEPA’s study are not expected to be released until 2012, according to the governor’s office.
“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,” said Christie. “The decision on whether to ban fracking outright or regulate it for environmental protection must be developed on the basis of sound policy and legitimate science,” continued the Governor. “Therefore, while I share many of the concerns expressed by those who support this legislation, I believe that a one-year moratorium on fracking in New Jersey while the issue is studied by the USDOE, USEPA, and NJDEP is the most prudent, responsible, and balanced course of action.”
Enviros were quick to condemn the governor’s actions, saying Christie had sided with big business over the people of the state.
“Governor Christie would rather take the side of big oil and gas companies over the drinking water of the people of New Jersey. A one year moratorium is meaningless because they will not explore for gas and oil until after that. Whether he does a study or regulations a one year moratorium is a PR gimmick that does not protect the people of New Jersey instead takes the side of the gas and oil industry,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club.
Tittel said the vetoed bill would have ensured cleaner water and protected forests statewide. Fracking involves injecting water, sand and toxic chemicals deep underground to break up dense rock formations and release natural gas. According to Tittel the process can pollute water supplies when fracking chemicals can leak into underground wells or when accidents spill the fluids into rivers or streams.
Tittle said over 1,000 cases of water contamination have been reported near fracking sites.
“A study released by researchers at Duke University in April found methane levels in shallow drinking water wells near active gas drilling sites at a level 17 times higher than those near inactive ones. Similarly, a 2011 Cornell University study found that the process of fracking releases methane, which according to the EPA, is 21 times more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,” a release from teh Sierra Club said.
“Since this bill passed overwhelmingly in both house we need to call on the legislature to override this conditional veto. They need to stand up for the drinking water and open spaces for people of New Jersey,” said Tittel.