Fracking fight intensifies as sides await Christie action on bill banning practice

Jessica Perry//August 10, 2012

Fracking fight intensifies as sides await Christie action on bill banning practice

Jessica Perry//August 10, 2012

The executive director of an industry group says the cheaper energy prices promised through fracking can help encourage business development in New Jersey.

Debate among industry and environmental groups on hydraulic fracturing in New Jersey is heating up, as a bill to ban the practice remains on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk after he signed a flurry of legislation earlier this week.

“New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of natural gas in the United States, and it’s really had a tremendous growth that many industry experts thought was impossible,” said Jim Benton, executive director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council. “What we really need is the cheaper energy prices that can come from this practice, because you can’t have a successful economic recovery without solid energy growth and competitive energy costs.”

Environmental groups have argued wastewater from fracking threatens the environment and public health, since the state’s treatment plants are not equipped to process the contaminants it contains before releasing it into waterways.

“Radioactivity in wastewater from at least 15 wells was thousands of times higher than the EPA standard … and this waste is already coming into New Jersey, posing a serious public health threat,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. “There could be accidental spills as fracking wastewater is being trucked to treatment plants with impacts to local communities, water bodies and groundwater.”

But Benton said the coalition’s arguments are “based on a hypothetical fear and unsubstantiated types of claims,” since “the treatment facilities have stated they can claim this water when it comes to them … and recycle it right there on site.”

“Businesses are already operating under regulated parameters … because federal law doesn’t permit the type of activity everyone’s arguing against,” Benton said. “Regulation can easily help the facilities meet the appropriate environmental standards to protect our water and help companies develop this energy to meet our energy needs.”

But with the state still under a one-year ban of the practice, which was supported by Christie, Benton noted “at this point, the interest in properly regulating this hasn’t materialized.”

Still, the state Department of Environmental Protection recently revised its guidelines on fracking wastewater, though Tittel noted there are no federal regulations outlining treatment standards, and “under the (DEP) waiver rule, any regulations the DEP does devise would be waived for gas companies and treatment facilities.”

“Accepting fracking waste takes away sewer capacity from New Jersey businesses, hurting our economic growth,” Tittel said in a statement. “The treatment plants would make more money taking in the fracking waste, undercutting new development.”