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Trade group chief says fracking unlikely in N.J. anytime soon

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Though a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New Jersey has now ended, don't look for the controversial practice to happen here anytime soon.

“I’m not aware that anyone is engaging in exploring for shale gas in New Jersey,” said Jim Benton, executive director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council. “You’d still have to go through the necessary state and local approval processes.”

A one-year moratorium on fracking in New Jersey ended Thursday. But Benton said New Jersey’s “not even a target” of gas exploration at the moment, because the region’s geologic conditions are much less favorable than those in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Also, a moratorium on fracking remains in force in the Delaware River Basin.

Hydraulic fracturing refers to a method of drilling that involves using water and chemicals to free natural gas reserves from shale rock. Environmentalists believe the process leads to water contamination, but industry officials dispute those notions.

For now, Benton said fracking’s main impact on the Garden State will be the lower electrical bills ratepayers are seeing thanks to the falling natural gas prices enabled by the new gas supplies. He said natural gas is also a cleaner way of generating electricity, compared to other fuels, such as coal.

“Electric generation from natural gas is a clear benefit to New Jersey which has some of the highest electrical rates,” he said. “…It’s clean and the new facilities being put in in New Jersey to generate electricity are among the cleanest possible according to the Department of Environmental Protection.”

On Thursday, a coalition of environmental groups held a press conference in Trenton marking the end of the moratorium and calling on the Legislature to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto last year of a ban on the disposal or treatment of fracking waste in New Jersey.

Benton said such a ban is unnecessary.

“A business model would not include transporting water from Pennsylvania all the way to New Jersey to be processed,” he said. “It’s a significant expense.”

In order to transport such waste into the state, a company would first have to inform the DEP. He said his group has checked with the DEP and found no record of waste being brought here.

Meanwhile, Benton said the economic boom in Western Pennsylvania is spilling over here, creating jobs in New Jersey.

“This is something that will help the economy, benefit the environment and really afford us an energy policy that assists us at a time when, candidly, we need that assistance,” he said. “You don’t have a successful rebound in the economy without a solid energy policy.”

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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