A New Jersey Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation to ban the treatment, disposal or storage of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state.
Even though the state has no oil and gas drilling, and therefore no fracking, those in favor of the legislation said they wanted to prevent neighboring states from trucking oil and gas drilling wastewater to New Jersey treatment facilities. The legislation (A-4231) specifically would not allow fracking wastewater to be shipped or transported from any other state or treated in the state.
Following two hours of testimony, the measure easily cleared the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee 4-1, with one member abstaining. An identical state Senate measure (S-3049) is set to be reviewed on Thursday but no vote is scheduled. Time is running out for a completed bill to reach Gov. Chris Christie's desk before the session ends in January.
Opponents of the measure said the measure could harm the business environment in the state and several of those opposed to the legislation explained that most of the chemicals used in fracking operations were harmless. According to the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, wastewater results from the mixture used to frack wells in Pennsylvania indicate that the wastewater mixture is 90% water, 9.5% sand and 0.5% chemicals.
Officials with the council, which represents manufacturers, said the bill also may violate a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that New Jersey couldn't bar waste from another state.
Chemical Council Executive Director Hal Bozarth called the bill "another example of overreaching legislation introduced in New Jersey that is a bad solution in search of a problem." Passage will give environmental groups ammunition to ban fracking in other states, he said. "It's my opinion that those who are proponents of this bill are the same ones who oppose fracking in Pennsylvania."
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt said she was not convinced that fracking wastewater was safe. She told Bozarth that when he said the "vast majorities of materials are safe, that doesn't instill a lot of confidence."
Nearly all of those testifying before the panel were in favor of the bill's passage. Many of those speaking raised concerns about the safety of the drilling wastewater while it was being transported.
"Every truckload of fracking wastewater contains a different toxic mix, making it nearly impossible for wastewater facilities to verify that adequate treatment has taken place before discharging the waste into waterways," said Food & Water Watch Regional Director Jim Walsh. "The risk of water contamination is too great to allow this toxic mix to be brought into the state." Passing the measure sends "a strong message that the health and well being of New Jersey residents is more important than the interests of the petroleum industry."
Pointing to the oil and gas operations ongoing in Pennsylvania, Walsh said "they get the money, we get the toxic waste" and New Jersey's "sewer plants not designed to treat" the wastewater.
Even though experts believe New Jersey lacks substantial oil and gas resources to exploit, several state legislative committees have advanced bills to ban fracking as well as wastewater from fracking operations. In August Christie conditionally vetoed legislation to permanently prohibit fracking (see Shale Daily, Aug. 26). However, he issued a one-year moratorium on the well stimulation technique and recommended then that state lawmakers revise the vetoed legislation.