New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday issued a conditional veto of legislation that would have permanently prohibited wells in the state from being hydraulically fractured (fracked). However, the Republican governor issued a one-year moratorium on the well stimulation technique and recommended that state lawmakers take up the bill again and revise it.

S-2576 to permanently prohibit fracking had been overwhelmingly approved in late June by the state Senate (33-1) and the House (58-11-8) (see Shale Daily, July 5).

“I share many of the concerns expressed by the legislators that sponsored this bill and the environmental advocates seeking a permanent moratorium on fracking,” Christie said. “We must ensure that our environment is protected and our drinking water is safe.”

To that end, he placed a moratorium on fracking so that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “can further evaluate the potential environmental impacts of this practice in New Jersey as well as evaluate the findings of still outstanding and ongoing federal studies.”

The governor’s office noted that the state bill was promoted at the same time two federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) — were reviewing the environmental impact of fracking.

DOE earlier this month issued a preliminary report that outlined immediate steps to improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas development; a final report is expected in November (see Shale Daily, Aug. 22). EPA’s study is scheduled for release in 2012.

“The potential environmental concerns with fracking in our state must be studied and weighed carefully against the potential benefits of increasing access to natural gas in New Jersey,” said Christie. “The decision on whether to ban fracking outright or regulate it for environmental protection must be developed on the basis of sound policy and legitimate science.

“Therefore, while I share many of the concerns expressed by those who support this legislation, I believe that a one-year moratorium on fracking in New Jersey while the issue is studied by the DOE, EPA and DEP is the most prudent, responsible and balanced course of action.”

Christie’s veto is considered largely symbolic because experts say there’s not enough natural gas under the state to support drilling for resources. However, environmental groups had urged that the permanent moratorium would serve as an example to neighboring states.

Christie’s “choice,” said Food & Water Watch Director Jim Walsh, “will determine whether the drinking water of thousands is compromised with toxic, carcinogenic chemicals; whether our once-protected public lands are destroyed in pursuit of profit; and whether the goals of corporations override public safety. Furthermore, his decision serves as a model for neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, where gas drilling companies are waiting anxiously to begin fracking across the states.”

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber said the industry was “deeply disappointed” by Christie’s decision for a moratorium.

“While the Marcellus Shale formation does not underlie enough of New Jersey to make it economical to produce, and no natural gas producers are actively seeking to explore for natural gas in the Garden State, this policy sends the wrong message to an entire nation benefiting from the responsible production of clean-burning, American natural gas,” Klaber said. “Further, the governor’s decision runs contrary to his understandable and laudable promotion of the expanded use of natural gas in his state’s energy mix.”

Klaber was referring to New Jersey’s draft 2011 energy master plan, which Christie unveiled in June (see Daily GPI, June 8). The draft, among other things, calls for coal-fired generation to be phased out in favor of natural gas.