Industry group asks N.J. governor to veto fracking ban

By Jim Efstathiou Jr.

(Bloomberg) — A New Jersey ban on hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas may spur opponents of the drilling technique to seek restrictions in additional states, according to an industry group seeking to block the law.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie should veto legislation that passed the Legislature earlier this week that would prohibit fracturing, or fracking, Energy in Depth, a Washington-based industry group that works with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said today in a letter to the governor.

While New Jersey produces no natural gas, the state consumes more than 620 billion cubic feet a year, much of which is produced outside the state by fracking, according to the letter. Environmental groups say the process, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to free gas, contaminates drinking water.

“While a statewide ban on this technology is not likely to have a material impact on development activities in your state, it could be used by opponents of affordable, reliable energy as a tool to push for implementing similarly destructive, ill- informed moratoria in other states,” according to the letter. “In view of that potential, we write today to express our strong opposition to the bill.”

The measure passed the state Senate 32-1 and the Assembly 56-11 with 8 abstentions, according to the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services website. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak didn’t reply to a request for comment.

The bill describes fracking as involving chemicals “that can suddenly and in an uncontrolled manner be introduced into the surface waters and ground water of the State.” The measure refers to a 2010 spill in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh, in which gas and drilling fluid shot 75 feet into the air for 16 hours, according to Boston-based Environment America.

“Any benefits of gas production simply do not justify the many potential dangers associated with fracking such as pollution of our lakes, streams and drinking water supplies and the release of airborne pollutants,” state Senator Bob Gordon, a Democrat from Fair Lawn, said in a statement. “We should not wait until our natural resources are threatened or destroyed to act.”

Bob Martin, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, has said that fracking can proceed with “tough regulations” near the Delaware River, part of a watershed that supplies 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. The Delaware River Basin Commission has put gas development on hold while drafting rules.

The watershed sits atop the Marcellus shale, a formation stretching from New York to West Virginia that may hold enough gas to heat U.S. homes and power electric plants for two decades, according to Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University in State College.

“While protecting the water supply and quality in the basin is paramount, New Jersey recognizes the significant positive economic impact that the development of this natural gas resource will have,” Martin told the commission in April. “We also recognize the important role that the development of Marcellus Shale natural gas plays in the energy security of the United States and as a cleaner fuel source than coal or oil.”

U.S. gas output expanded 20 percent in the past five years as fracking let drillers extract the fuel from shale formations in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania once considered impenetrable. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying fracking for possible impacts on drinking water. The EPA said results are expected in 2014.

New York regulators are to release guidelines today that would prohibit fracking in watersheds supplying New York City and Syracuse, while opening up about 85 percent of New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale formation to development.