Hydraulic fracturing wastewater bill clears Assembly panel

TRENTON – A bill designed to protect New Jersey from the effects of wastewater contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process of gas exploration cleared the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee today.

Assemblyman Scott Rudder voted no at this time and urged a better understanding of the pros and cons.

Assemblywoman Denise Coyle abstained.

This bill, A4231, prohibits any wastewater resulting from hydraulic fracturing from being stored, disposed of or treated in New Jersey. The original wording would have barred such wastewater from being shipped or transported from any other state into New Jersey.

Its primary sponsors are Connie Wagner, (D-38), Paramus, and Reed Gusciora, (D-15), Trenton.

Wagner removed the ‘transportation’ language to address possible constitutional concerns, committee Chairman John McKeon said.

The process is controversial, with Pennsylvania moving forward with hydraulic fracturing, but the Delaware River Basin Commission last week postponed – again – a vote on lifting a moratorium on the process.

The Commission has set a meeting for Dec. 8, but specifically stated it will not consider natural gas development regulations at that time.

Bill opponents, such as Hal Bozarth of the N.J. Chemistry Council, said there is “an awful lot to lose’’ by the perception that will result from passage of this bill. The bill is pushed by ‘fracking’ opponents, he said, and he argued that natural gas exploration can further economic development, in part as a building block to many chemical industries, as well as serve as a cleaner alternative to coal and a domestic alternative to Saudi oil.

But McKeon said that until such time that science can offer reasonable assurances about the contents of the wastewater and how to handle it, the careful, prudent position is to impose limits on its presence in New Jersey.

Bozarth agreed there should be a highly regulated, scientifically verifiable means of dealing with such wastewater.

Jim Benton of the N.J. Petroleum Council seconded those comments, and said the means exist to deal with wastewater in a safe manner, that the industry is always re-evaluating its processes to improve them, and that the process can proceed “with caution.”

Reflecting environmentalists’ concerns, Tracy Carluccio of Delaware Riverkeeper said that a Department of Energy report says the wastewater from ‘fracking’ is about ten times more toxic than some oil-drilling  waste. In addition, she said society doesn’t know enough about all of the potential pollutants, including carcinogens, that ‘fracking’ wastewater can contain.

In addition, she said treatment plants are simply not equipped to handle this type of wastewater.

And Amy Hanson of N.J. Conservation Foundation said opponents keep putting forth a false argument of the ecology vs. the economy.

Jeff Tittel of N.J. Sierra Club said another issue is that infrastructure wastewater capacity will be greatly depleted, eventually hurting planned development projects in various towns.

Committee members such as Assemblymen Scott Rudder and Peter Barnes III said they welcomed a N.J. Chamber of Commerce invitation to go on-site and inspect the process firsthand.

In response, on a lighter note, McKeon joked: “The bad news for the committee is that we’ll be in the middle of ‘Pennsyltucky’” to investigate this issue.

On a serious note, he said he welcomed a chance to visit sites in Pennsylvania to gather more data. Hydraulic fracturing wastewater bill clears Assembly panel