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NJ State Senate passes fracking waste ban

The New Jersey State Senate passed legislation to ban the processing and treatment of waste from hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Environment New Jersey and allies built support for the Senate bill (S253) after passage in the Assembly. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38) and Sen. Jen Beck (R-12), passed by a bipartisan landslide margin of 30-5, and gained momentum with the disclosure that fracking waste was already being shipped to New Jersey.

“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 Senate chose drinking water over gas drillers today, and we urge Governor Christie to sign this bill into law.”

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.

While fracking has yet to commence in New Jersey, the gas drilling boom in Pennsylvania has already produced more than 1.3 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater. Chemical companies – including DuPont – have started to bring some of that waste into New Jersey.

Environment New Jersey cited documented cases of fracking waste polluting water in Pennsylvania, including:

  • In 2009, 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 Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, drilling operations spilled 35,000 gallons of wastewater, some of which reached a stream that feeds the Susquehanna River.

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, emailing and calling their legislators.

The Senate’s vote marks a growing chorus of states voicing deep concern over the issue. Earlier this year, Vermont banned the processing of fracking wastewater (and fracking itself), and New York’s Assembly voted to regulate the wastewater like other hazardous wastes.

The state’s 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 New Jersey.

“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 help keep Jersey drinking water safe from dirty drilling waste.”