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Environmental groups call for ban on fracking waste

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With New Jersey's one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing expiring Thursday, a group of environmental organizations is calling on the state Legislature to override Gov. Chris Christie's veto of a ban on fracking waste.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” refers to the highly controversial practice of using chemically treated water to free shale natural gas reserves deep underground. The advent of fracking technology has led to vast new drilling opportunities and an economic boom in Western Pennsylvania, but environmentalists say the chemicals used in the process often end up in water supplies. Industry groups deny that charge.

Moreover, fracking water must be disposed of or treated, sometimes across state lines. Environmentalists fear that waste could end up in New Jersey and possibly contaminate the state’s water supply.

New Jersey’s Legislature last year passed a fracking ban, but Christie vetoed the bill, instead instituting a one-year moratorium on the practice.

The governor also vetoed a bill banning the disposal of fracking waste in the state. The environmental groups are now calling on the Legislature to override that veto, something plausible because the original bill passed with a veto-proof majority.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said Hurricane Sandy serves as a warning, because it shut down 20 percent of the state’s sewer plants.

“…If fracking waste was being stored in New Jersey or processed here, it would have taken a disaster and turned it into a tragedy, with billions of gallons of toxic waste going into our waterways,”

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said a preliminary report from an ongoing Environmental Protection Agency study shows more than 1,000 chemicals are used in the fracking process, some of which are carcinogenic. She said fracking companies are increasingly looking for facilities to handle the solid waste that results from fracking, and there aren’t enough landfills or processing facilities in Pennsylvania and Ohio to deal with the task.

“So it’s just a lot of waste – liquid and solid – moving around the eastern part of the United States looking for a place to go,” she said. “That’s why New Jersey’s in such jeopardy here.”

Though the statewide moratorium on fracking has ended, a moratorium continues on fracking in the Delaware River basin. That likely means fracking won’t take place in New Jersey in the immediate future, but Tittel said clean water advocates want legislative action before fracking becomes an issue in the state. He thinks an election year is a good time to push for the bans.

“The concern is if we don’t move forward and we don’t move forward quickly, given the power of the oil and gas lobby it may be harder to get later,” he said.

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