TRENTON – Many of the Assembly lawmakers who voted against the resolution last June that called for banning hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” received campaign contributions from various energy companies that would stand to benefit from the controversial drilling procedure used to unearth natural gas, campaign finance reports show.
The issue of ‘’fracking’’ has been one of the more contentious debates in legislative circles this year, featuring legislation working its way through various committees as well as postponed votes by the Delaware River Basin Commission concerning the process.
The issue pits environmentalists against industry; ‘green’ causes vs. jobs in a struggling economy.
One key resolution, A3653, was sponsored by Assembly Democrats Connie Wagner, Reed Gusciora, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Ruben Ramos, and Herb Conaway. It was overwhelmingly supported by the Democratic Party, with the exception of one member, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), of Paulsboro, who voted no.
Burzichelli received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from oil companies that have supported the drilling procedure officially known as hydraulic fracturing, financial reports show.
Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the legislation, opting for a five-year moratorium instead.
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing derisively call the procedure “fracking” and held a large rally outside the Statehouse in late November that attracted more than 800 people. One of the groups, the Sierra Club, said ‘’fracking’’ would pollute water and air for future generations, with the drilling even potentially releasing radioactive substances.
The Department of Environmental Protection even issued an advisory earlier to landfills and other facilities to be aware of what exactly is in “fracking’’ waste products.
Opponents of fracking point to the Clearfield County, Pa., explosion last year that contaminated thousands of gallons of water. The procedure is commonly used in the Marcellus Shale, sections of which are in the Upper Delaware region and Northwestern New Jersey.
Other lawmakers who voted no on the resolution were Republicans, many of whom also received campaign contributions from energy companies.
Among the biggest recipients was Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce. The 2011 campaign finance documents show he received contributions from Conoco Phillips ($2,000), and NuStar Pac of San Antonio Texas ($1,000). Another contributor was E. I. DuPont Co. ($1,000), which carries a large number of hydraulic fracturing patents. NuStar Pac also donated to Assemblyman Jay Webber, in the amount of $1,500.
Neither DeCroce nor Webber, both of whom serve the same Morris County legislative district, returned phone calls for comment.
E.I. du Pont is leading the hydraulic fracturing patent race by one measure, according to a published report.
NuStar, the company from Texas, intends to build a rail facility in conjunction with another energy company that will “receive oil from U.S. shale oil prospects like the Eagle Ford in South Texas,” according to a news report.
Burzichelli, a South Jersey Democrat who represents the 3rd Legislative District, received donations from Conoco Phillips Co., $1,750; $2,500 each from E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. and Hess; and $3,000 each from NuStar Pac and Valero Pac of San Antonio, Texas ($3,000).
In an interview, Burzichelli said the campaign contribution had no effect on his vote against the anti-fracking resolution, saying he voted against it because the resolution reached a conclusion that is premature.
“When you’re dealing with an issue like fracking, it should be void of emotion, it should be void of emotions and based on science,” he said.
He did acknowledge, though, that those aforementioned oil companies have a “footprint in my legislative district.”
Other recipients of Conoco Phillips donations include Assemblymen Anthony M. Bucco ($500) and Michael Patrick Carroll ($500).
In a telephone interview, Carroll said he wasn’t aware Conoco Phillips supported the procedure.
“I thought they were just a refinery,” he said.
Carroll said he voted against the resolution because it’s “completely irrelevant” to New Jersey residents, since this is primarily an issue that affects Pennsylvania, where such drilling is being conducted.
Opponents of “fracking,’’ however, are concerned that wastewater from the procedure in Pennsylvania will end up being handled or stored in New Jersey.
Nonetheless, Carroll believes hydraulic fracturing, and other techniques that involve drilling underground for energy, are needed.
“The Left believes it’s never proper to drill for oil,” he said. “You got to get stuff out of the ground if you want energy.”
Two other assemblymen, Vincent Polistina and John Amodeo, previously received campaign contributions from Pennoni Associates, a Philadelphia-based engineering firm, whose president and CEO, Anthony S. Bartolomeo, served on the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which in its report described hydraulic fracturing as “the most important factor that assures economic production.”
Amodeo and Polistina received $2,000 from Pennoni Associates when they ran for Assembly as a team in 2008.
Another recipient, Assemblyman David Rible, received $350 from the Chemistry Council of N.J. and $500 from Conoco Phillips.
Industry defends ‘fracking’
The Chemistry Council of New Jersey (CCNJ) praised Gov. Chris Christie for issuing a conditional veto of the hydraulic fracturing resolution.
In a statement, CCNJ’s executive director Hal Bozarth praised Christie for instituting a ban on the drilling procedure for only one year instead of the five years called for in the resolution.
“That would be no way to encourage natural gas production the nation so desperately needs,” Bozarth said about a permanent moratorium resolution.
The council said the natural gas industry could produce thousands of high-paying jobs in the chemistry field and also help reduce electric bills.
Conoco Phillips, which gave money to several legislators, is also on the record in defending hydraulic fracturing:
“While the United States has abundant natural gas resources, most cannot be produced without hydraulic fracturing technology,” the company said in a news release. “This includes the development of shale gas reserves, a growing source of our natural gas supply that requires hydraulic fracturing to allow gas to flow readily into a wellbore…States have successfully implemented stringent, effective regulations for hydraulic fracturing to meet the unique geological and geographical needs of individual regions.”
Hess, a big contributor to Burzichelli’s campaign, has also been public about its support for hydraulic fracturing.
“We believe that well planned and properly executed hydraulic fracturing stimulation treatments of production wells are safe for the environment and the public and a necessary part of producing key resources that help foster energy security,” Hess said in a statement.
The oil company has used the technique to unearth shale in North Dakota and said it had found “no cases of groundwater impact caused by hydraulic fracturing operations.”
In a recent town hall meeting in Princeton, Christie said he doesn’t have a position on it yet. However, he said his decision will be based on science and not emotions.
The Delaware River Basin Commission, which was scheduled to hold a meeting that focused on lifting the moratorium, has postponed votes several times. The latest postponement, according to Christie, was because the governor of Delaware had some concerns about the procedure, and they wanted to take his concerns into consideration.