We wish we knew the answers to the questions surrounding "fracking" - or the hydraulic fracturing of rock formations to extract natural gas.

Is it an environmental debacle waiting to happen (or already happening)? The process produces vast quantities of contaminated wastewater that can pollute drinking-water aquifers.

Or is the plentiful, cheap natural gas produced by fracking a key component of America's energy future? Already, natural gas extracted from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania has driven down gas prices in New Jersey. That's certainly welcome.

The key questions: Is fracking worth the environmental risks? Can those risks be mitigated by better fracking methods?

We don't know the answers. In fact, there appear to be no authoritative answers to those questions. Two massive federal studies are under way. Until those studies are completed, this is just a heated debate between self-interested groups on either side of the issue.

However, this much is clear. In the words of Larry Ragonese, the spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection: "There is no frackable shale in New Jersey that can produce energy."

So why, you may ask, is the Legislature once again pursuing a fracking ban in New Jersey?

There is really only one answer to that question: To score points with New Jersey's increasingly vocal and powerful environmental lobby.

The Legislature sent Gov. Chris Christie a fracking ban last year. He conditionally vetoed it, calling instead for a one-year moratorium. Granted, that would be a one-year moratorium on something that no one is doing anyway. But it's a more sensible approach than an outright ban.

But lawmakers are at it again. Last week, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved a fracking ban by a 5-0 vote.

It's worth pointing out that while lawmakers are prepared to protect New Jersey from a fracking threat that doesn't exist in the state, they refuse to kill a measure that would allow a proven health risk - raw milk - to be sold in the state, and are diddling over a measure that has a proven health benefit -the fluoridation of drinking water.

The truth is, New Jersey doesn't have to do anything about fracking right now - or perhaps ever. True, the fracking ban is just one of many unnecessary bills wending their way through the legislative process. What's one more?

But to the degree that it suggests there are answers to as yet unanswerable questions - critical questions - the bill calling for a fracking ban is a disservice to the people of New Jersey.

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