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In the latest state action against fracking, the New Jersey Assembly approved a measure to ban the processing of fracking wastewater. Environment New Jersey and its allies stepped up efforts to build support for Assemblywoman Connie Wagner’s bill after learning that fracking waste had already been shipped to New Jersey and discharged into the Delaware via a DuPont facility in Salem County. Legislators approved the bill (A575) by a veto-proof majority of 56-19.
“Toxic waste from fracking should not be allowed anywhere near New Jersey’s waterways,” said Doug O’Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey. “The New Jersey Assembly chose drinking water over gas drillers today.”
Fracking is a gas drilling technique that involves pumping a mix of chemicals, sand and water down a well at such high pressure that it cracks open gas-bearing rock formations. When the process is complete, wastewater–often laced with toxics like benzene, heavy metals and even radioactive material-flows back to the surface. Fracking wastewater has contaminated drinking water sources on numerous occasions in other states.
The gas drilling boom in Pennsylvania has already produced more than 1.3 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater, and drilling operators have been increasingly sending that wastewater to surrounding states. In New Jersey DuPont has processed the waste at a facility which discharges into the Delaware River.
“Fracking is the latest source of toxic waste,” said O’Malley. “That is the last thing New Jersey needs.”
Environment New Jersey cited documented cases of fracking waste polluting water and causing other problems:
- In Pennsylvania, after fracking wastewater was discharged from sewage treatment plants into the Monongahela River, the state advised 325,000 people in and around Pittsburgh not to use their tap water for more than a week.
- In New Mexico, state records show drilling waste has contaminated groundwater at nearly 400 different sites.
- In Ohio, deep well-injection of fracking wastewater was linked to a 4.0 level earthquake in the Youngstown area last December.
Environment New Jersey and its allies have worked to build public support for the frack waste ban–with citizen activists writing letters to the editor and emailing and calling their legislators. Last Thursday more than 150 citizens came to Trenton to urge their legislators to take action.
The Assembly’s vote marks a growing chorus of states voicing deep concern over the issue. Earlier this year, Vermont also banned the processing of fracking wastewater (and fracking itself), and New York’s Assembly voted to regulate the wastewater like other hazardous wastes.
The states’ actions fills a vacuum as oil and gas waste is exempt from the nation’s hazardous waste laws, explained John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, the national federation of Environment New Jersey and its sister organizations across the country.
“Fracking has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment and our health: poisoning waters, making families sick, and turning forests into industrial zones,” Rumpler said. “Today’s vote will not only help keep Jersey drinking water safe but also spur further action to stop dirty drilling.”
Environment New Jersey is working to move the frack waste ban through the Legislature before it breaks for summer recess. Senator Robert Gordon’s (D-Fairlawn) companion bill (S253) has already cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee this month, and a full Senate vote on the legislation is hoped for next week.
Environment New Jersey is a statewide, citizen-supported environmental advocacy organization representing over 30,000 citizen members.