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New Jersey Passes 'Moot' Legislation Banning Fracking

New Jersey isn't even a player in the shale game, but lawmakers there have decided to leave the stadium altogether.

Both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill on Wednesday that bans hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The vote was a largely symbolic move in a state where no gas drilling is taking place or is planned.

"We have no applications for fracking in New Jersey and we've identified that there's virtually no Marcellus Shale in New Jersey," New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) spokesman Larry Ragonese told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "So it's really kind of a moot point. It's a ban on something that's not likely to be an issue."

Tom Amontree, executive vice president for America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) called the legislature's action "unfortunate" and said it was "based on fear rather than the facts."

"While New Jersey may not have significant supplies of natural gas, even a symbolic ban on hydraulic fracturing is an irresponsible step," Amontree said Thursday. "Natural gas drilling is conducted safely and responsibly every day in communities across the country. Our industry has a six-decade track record of safety, and we are committed to answering people's questions in the communities where we work about the measures we take to ensure the safety of our process."

It was unclear if Republican Gov. Chris Christie would sign the bill (S-2576). If he does, the Garden State would be the first state to officially ban fracking. S-2576 passed in the state Senate and the Assembly by votes of 33-1 and 58-11, respectively.

"It just reached our office and it's currently under review in our counsel's office," Christie spokesman Sean Conner told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "The governor has 45 days to review that bill."

Ragonese said he doesn't believe S-2576's passage would have any effect on the Delaware River Basin Commission's (DRBC) efforts to enact final rules governing gas drilling into Marcellus Shale play. New Jersey is a DRBC member along with New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"There will be no effect that I can see," Ragonese said. "We've asked the DRBC to come up with some strict regulations regarding the possible effects of fracking on the Delaware River Basin. We're asking them to make sure they protect the water quality and the environment."

The DRBC proposed regulations last year to allow water from the 13,539-square mile basin to be used for gas development (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10, 2010a). The rules also govern flowback, production waters, treated wastewater and mine drainage waters. A set of final rules is not expected to be completed before September (see Shale Daily, April 18).

Other measures on fracking have either been passed or are currently under consideration in New Jersey.

One bill, S-2575, would prohibit any New Jersey member of the DRBC from supporting fracking. That bill was referred to Senate Environmental and Energy Committee on Dec. 20, 2010. Meanwhile AJR-67 -- which urges the other DRBC states to enact fracking moratoriums -- passed the Assembly by a 59-7 vote on March 14 and was referred to the same committee.

Finally, AR 112 calls on the U.S. Congress to enact the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009, or FRAC Act. It passed the Assembly on March 14, 60-4, and has been filed with the New Jersey secretary of state.

In April the NJDEP said it wanted the DRBC to permit no more than 30 production well pads, and no more than a total of 300 production wells for the first two years after it enacts fracking regulations (see Shale Daily, April 20). Last year and in 2009 the DRBC imposed a moratorium on new well pad permits in the basin, pending the new rules (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10, 2010b).

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