New Jersey legislature passes anti-fracking bill

The New Jersey Legislature has approved a bill that would establish a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, a longheld technique for extracting oil and gas from tight rock formations that environmental groups say poses a threat to groundwater supplies.

If signed by Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey would be the first state in the U.S. to outlaw the practice.

The move comes as the oil and gas industry is doing more drilling in tight shale rock formations from New York to Texas that were once thought too difficult to develop. Because the formations are so dense, oil companies use hydraulic fracturing — a process that involves injecting large quantities of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into a well — to crack open the rock and unlock oil and gas resources.

While industry says the practice has been safely used for more than 60 years, critics say it has never been used on the current scale, uses too much water, pollutes the air and could harm vital drinking water supplies.

Though industry is not yet drilling in New Jersey’s Utica Shale, legislators moved to ban hydraulic fracturing before it arrives in the state.

“We want to get this in place so that New Jersey will be off-limits,” New Jersey Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, a Democrat from Paramus and a sponsor of the measure, told Bloomberg News. “There are regulations in place and it’s not working. We are seeing one accident after another.”

At least 61 localities across the U.S. have passed measures against hydraulic fracturing, according to a count by environmental and consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. 

“New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s signature is all that is necessary now for this critical and timely statewide ban to go into effect,” said Jim Walsh, eastern region director of the consumer advocacy group.