There’s no drilling for natural gas in New Jersey, so there’s none of the fracking process that has opened up vast reserves of the energy source.
Given that, it makes sense to prohibit disposal of the waste from fracking — a byproduct of injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to free up natural gas — from this small and crowded state.
Gov. Chris Christie, backed more by industry than environmental groups, twice vetoed such a ban. Gov. Phil Murphy, whose support is the reverse, is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. That would make New Jersey only the second state in the nation to ban fracking waste disposal.
That prospect seemed likely after the state Senate in October passed the fracking waste ban and sent it to the Assembly.
But oddly enough, some environmental groups that have pushed for the ban for years now want the Legislature to hold off on giving Murphy the chance to sign it into law. They want to focus instead on pressing him to make the Delaware River Basin Commission ban the waste throughout its territory in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
None of those other states have banned fracking waste. Of the four, only Pennsylvania has a natural gas drilling industry that uses fracking to extract natural gas from shale formations. New York was the first state with substantial natural gas reserves to prohibit the process.
New Jersey environmental groups want fracking and its waste to be banned within the basin, and Murphy said in February that he supports that position.
But the groups seem to have an exaggerated belief in Murphy’s power over the basin commission. One said he must “keep his commitment” to have “all fracking activities banned in the basin through the DRBC.” Another said Murphy must “step up and ban it all.”
Well, Gov. Murphy is one of five commissioners, the others being the governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York, as well as a federal representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Other representatives may have a different view off fracking, which has dramatically lowered the price of natural gas and with it, heating costs for consumers and energy bills of manufacturers. The increased use of natural gas also has displaced coal and oil and resulted in the decade’s most significant reduction in carbon emissions.
A proposal before the commission, expected to be acted on this fall, would indeed ban fracking waste from the basin, but also would allow for withdrawals of water for fracking use and the disposal of its wastewater.
Whatever the decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission, there is no reason for New Jersey to delay its ban on accepting fracking waste from elsewhere. Under current law, a chemical plant in Salem County could seek state Department of Environmental Protection to do just that.
Assembly passage of the bill and Murphy’s signing of it would give him another talking point in his discussions with his fellow basin commission members.