Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anti-fracking bill clears NJ environmental committee

"Politics is perception," the chief lobbyist for the state's chemical industry reminded members of
a legislative committee yesterday at the start of its hearing on A-4231, a bill to outlaw the storage or treatment of fracking wastewater in New Jersey.

And, for the ensuing 90 minutes, people on both
sides of the issue did their best to shape the public perception on hydrofracturing--the natural gas extraction technique more commonly known as fracking.

Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, said that activists are using the legislation (and a separate bill banning fracking) to send a message to other states that New Jersey is opposed to fracking and, by extension he argued, to economic development.

How so? Because natural gas is a "building block" used by the chemical industry to create
a host of consumer products from computer parts and shampoo to toys and solar panels.

Many former manufacturers left the state, he said, when the cost of natural gas traded at
$14 per British thermal unit. The cost has dropped to $3 per Btu today, largely due to Marcellus Shale production, presenting New Jersey businesses, he said, with a significant raw material cost savings.

Bozarth argued that natural gas also promises to bring down New Jersey's industrial energy rates which are 70 percent higher than the national average, while offering an environmentally cleaner alternative to coal in the production of that energy.

So much for shaping the positive perception. 

On the negative side, fracking opponents, like Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, asked why New Jersey would want to dispose of fracking wastewater in its waterways, claiming it is "ten times more toxic than waste water produced by gas drilling platforms."

Up to 20 million gallons of it is produced daily in Pennsylvania, she said, and is being sent to Ohio where it is being disposed of in injection wells. DuPont, Carluccio said, is interested in treating fracking wastewater in New Jersey.

The Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel said:  "We can't handle the wastewater we currently have. Every time it rains, we have billions of gallons of partially treated sewage going out into our waters and streams."

Tittel said that 50,000 gallons of wastewater escaped full treatment in Bergen County during Hurricane Irene, and asked: "What if that was fracking fluid?"

To avoid a possible interstate-commerce constitutional challenge, the bill was amended to remove a prohibition on transportation of fracking water into the state, presumably from Pennsylvania where fracking is being used to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale or from New York where state regulators are getting closer to allowing such drilling.

The two Republican members of the five-member committee would not provide votes for the bill's release, foreshadowing a tough battle ahead. The bill has virtually no chance of passing during the current lame-duck session but surely will be reintroduced when the Legislature reconvenes for a new two-year session in January.

You can listen to the entire hearing here.

Committee Says NJ Won't Treat Wastewater from Hydraulic Fracturing
Panel approves bill banning treatment, disposal of wastewater from 'fracking'


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