By Andrew Restuccia - 08/25/11 07:24 PM EDT
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed a bill Thursday to permanently ban a natural-gas drilling technique known as “fracking,” and instead recommended a one-year moratorium on the controversial practice in the state.
The state should not move forward with a permanent ban until the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency fully evaluate the safety of the practice, Christie said.
“I am placing a one-year moratorium on fracking so that the DEP can further evaluate the potential environmental impacts of this practice in New Jersey as well as evaluate the findings of still outstanding and ongoing federal studies..
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling process in which water, chemicals and sand are injected into the ground in order to gain access to valuable natural-gas reserves.
While proponents say fracking is the best way to unlock the country’s vast natural-gas supplies, critics have grown increasingly wary of the practice in recent years, raising concerns about the possibility of rampant groundwater pollution.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, dismissed the one-year ban as a political ploy. The gas industry has no immediate plans to drill in the state, he said, so a one-year ban offers environmentalists little comfort.
“I think it’s a joke,” Tittel said. “A one-year moratorium is worse than an outright veto because it would take longer than that for the gas companies to apply for their permits. It’s not going to happen right away. It could take six to seven years.”
New Jersey lies on the Utica Shale, which has less abundant natural-gas reserves than the nearby Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York.
Christie’s decision to veto the permanent ban shows that the governor is trying to appeal to the more conservative wing of the Republican party, Tittel says.
“He’s trying to have it both ways: one for a national audience, one for a state audience. That’s the way he’s playing the game,” Tittel said, pointing to Christie’s decision to pull New Jersey out of a regional cap-and-trade program.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, blasted Christie’s decision Thursday, arguing that the “policy sends the wrong message to an entire nation benefitting from the responsible production of clean-burning, American natural gas.”
After vetoing the permanent ban, Christie sent the state legislature a proposal to ban fracking for one year. State lawmakers must approve the plan.