Sunday, March 6, 2011

Some NJ lawmakers mounting an anti-frack attack

The natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale runs though portions of New York and Pennsylvania--not New Jersey. But that geographic fact hasn't discouraged lawmakers in the Garden State from pushing legislation to halt the use of hydraulic fracturing as a method of extracting the formation's buried energy.

On Monday, March 7, the New Jersey Assembly's Environment and Solid Waste Committee will consider two bills that attempt to influence gas drilling. Three days later, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will take up another.

The Assembly committee will start with Assemblywoman Connie Wagner's A-3653, which  prohibits any person in New Jersey from using the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing for natural gas exploration until the federal Environmental Protection Agency "concludes its study of hydraulic fracturing, the techniques and materials employed in its use, and the environmental impact of these practices, techniques and materials, and issues its findings."

The bill serves little practical purpose since the EPA study will be written, bound, distributed and had its excess copies stored away on congressional shelves long before anyone even thinks about gas drilling in New Jersey.

So what's the point? Arguably, if passed, the bill would proclaim New Jersey's solidarity with fracking opponents in New York and Pennsylvania who are pressing their state governments to impose similar moratoria on the drilling method.

That, in fact, is the subject of the second Wagner bill that the Assembly panel will consider. AJR-67 urges the governors and state legislatures in Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania to freeze the use of hydraulic fracturing (New York has already done so) until EPA concludes its study and issues its findings.

On Thursday, the Senate committee will be debating a bill of more immediate import. Senator Robert Gordon's  S-2575  would prohibit New Jersey's representative to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) from supporting use of drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing.  

The Commission is well into the process of developing regulations that, as drafted, would permit the use of  hydraulic fracturing, with limiting restrictions, in the upper Delaware River watershed that covers portions of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Fracking opponents argue that the proposed restrictions are not sufficient to prevent frack-water contaminants from entering the Delaware--a drinking water source for millions of downstream residents in  New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

New Jersey's representative to the DRBC is Governor Chris Christie. His alternate, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, has not indicated how he will vote on the proposed regulations but has expressed concerns that the regulations need to be strict enough to protect the river as a drinking-water source.

Between Monday's and Thursday's hearings, the debate in the Senate committee should be more interesting since both fracking supporters and opponents have a lot riding on the success or failure of Senator Gordon's legislation.

Time running out on 'Time of Decision' rule in NJ
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