On Monday, the New Jersey Senate passed a bill prohibiting the state and its waste facilities from treating, discharging, disposing, or storing wastewater from out-of-state hydraulic fracturing operations. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, creates liquid and solid waste byproducts when natural gas is mined by injecting water, sand, and chemicals into shale rocks. New Jersey legislators were spurred on by New Jersey’s proximity to Pennsylvania where fracking has become prevalent. Pennsylvania sends portions of its wastewater to other states, including New York. New York is also currently considering allowing fracking in the state.
A one-year moratorium on fracking is already in place in New Jersey. The state legislature attempted to ban fracking in the state last year. However, the bill was vetoed by Governor Christie who instead imposed the one-year moratorium on fracking pending further study of the issue.
Supporters of the bill feared waste from increased fracking operations across the country would find its way into New Jersey and worsen environmental conditions in a state that already has thousands of polluted sites. The bill was opposed by the New Jersey Petroleum Council which said the ban only curbs innovation in the waste industry and takes business away from state industrial waste facilities.
New Jersey's concerns about incoming fracking wastewater may be unfounded. According to representatives of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, very little fracking wastewater currently makes it into New Jersey and regulations are in place to ensure its safe handling. Further, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, approximately 90 percent of fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania was recycled in 2011 and that number is expected to grow. Some Pennsylvania operators reportedly recycle 100% of their wastewater. With respect to treatment, Pennsylvania has implemented strict limits for safely treating fracking wastewater at municipal and commercial treatment facilities. Although most of Pennsylvania's treated fracking wastewater is treated for reuse, discharges from treatment facilities are subject to detailed monitoring. Based on Pennsylvania's extensive recycling and safe treatment of fracking wastewater, New Jersey's limited intake of out-of-state wastewater, and its ability to safely handle incoming wastewater, New Jersey's decision to ban out-of-state wastewater is somewhat puzzling.
The bill will now head to Governor Christie’s office for his signature.