Christie Opposes Bill to Ban Hydraulic Fracturing for the Second Time

Lawmakers try again on fracking ban in N.J. | The Asbury Park Press NJ |

The bill passed last year and governor Christie applied a conditional veto, establishing a moratorium  of one year instead. That moratorium is about to expire. Christie argues that there has been no interest in doing hydraulic fracturing (HF) – also known as fracking – in New Jersey.

President Obama opened the doors to HF in his last State of the Union Address. Pennsylvania allows HF and New York is said to be about to lift the ban on the procedure to recover methane gas from shale rock formations. These two developments increase the chances that Christie will approve fracking in New Jersey if any gas company applies for permits.

Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling wells and then injecting huge amounts of aqueous solutions containing acids and other chemicals at high pressure to break up the shale layers and liberate the natural gas trapped in them. The solutions are about 98% water. But the remaining 2%, although due to the huge volume of solution used represents an aggregate threat to underground water resources, should not ever be considered the major threat:

The major threat is what exists down there naturally, in solid state, and that those injections will disturb, dissolve, and spread throughout the same strata where our aquifers lie and are replenished. What is worse: That danger is not measurable. There is a huge uncertainty element in hydraulic fracturing.

Furthermore, because the injections are at high pressure, they also tend to increase the temperature underground, not only because of the high pressure itself but because of friction. The increase in temperature underground also increases the degree of solvation of naturally occurring chemical salts and oxides. After entering the liquid state, those chemicals will flow everywhere.

I am not writing here as a candidate. I am writing as a chemist (retired). Governor Christie said yesterday that we should not bother passing a bill when nobody seems interested in fracking in New Jersey. But perhaps nobody has proposed fracking in New Jersey precisely because of the degree of opposition to the procedure in the state. Perhaps the moment we lower our guard and forget about it they may attempt to set foot on this side of the Delaware River.

It would be an unmitigated disaster for New Jersey. The consequences in terms of health and property values can not be pre-measured precisely because of that uncertainty factor I mentioned above. But what is certain is that once an aquifer is contaminated, its water will not be potable for decades. From the underground water, the contamination will flow through springs and wetlands, reaching surface waters as well.

Christie should sign the bill but I fear he is catering to the gas industry. After all, if no one wants to  do hydraulic fracturing in New Jersey, the ban would affect no one either. It would not hurt and would give us peace of mind.

I urge everyone to speak out in favor of the permanent ban. Please attend your town council meetings and ask your local government to pass a resolution opposing hydraulic fracturing and also ask to have a copy of such resolution faxed to the governor’s office.

Remember, once the gas industry put a foot in the door, it will be too late.