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New Jersey Governor Places Temporary Ban on Hydraulic Fracking

According to reports, Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, has imposed a one-year moratorium on natural gas hydraulic fracturing in his state. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process by which natural gas companies inject a mixture of water and chemicals in the earth to widen fissures in the earth’s crust and allow trapped gas to escape. Critics of the process say fracking contaminates ground water supplies. On the contrary, natural gas companies contend that the fracking process is safe.

New Jersey’s Governor explained that the purpose of the moratorium is to allow further research into the safety of the hydraulic fracking process. However, the Governor also vetoed a bill which would ban fracking altogether. New Jersey joins New York as the only two U.S. states which have placed a temporary ban on fracking. New Jersey’s Governor also said that several on-going federal studies need to be fully considered before any major decisions are made.

According to the oil and gas industry, fracking has been effective in helping to exploit vast U.S. reserves of shale gas. Gas companies say the increase in natural gas production has the potential to cut domestic dependence on imported oil while curbing greenhouse gas emissions. However, critics claim the chemicals used in the “frack fluid” can cause cancer and other serious illnesses. Some critics even suggested the governor “sold out clean water” by vetoing the bill which would ban fracking all outright. Reportedly, there have been numerous individual reports of illness within communities located near the gas wells. In contrast, representatives of the natural gas industry insist that there have been no “proven” cases of water contamination attributed to hydraulic fracking.

According to the Governor, there are no current developmental proposals for the production of shale gas in New Jersey. However, local sources have suggested there is the potential for fracking in the northwestern part of New Jersey bordering Pennsylvania. Reportedly, thousands of gas wells have been drilled in the gas rich Marcellus shale which lies under Pennsylvania since 2008.

Advocates of natural gas say the halt on potential fracking and the attempted all out ban sends the wrong message to a nation who benefits from the clean burning natural gas. Further, natural gas advocates contend the Governor is recanting on his promise to promote natural gas as a part of the state’s energy plan. On the other hand, opponents of hydraulic fracking have expressed concern that the bill which could ban fracking outright will expire before the studies are complete.

The Governor has said he sympathizes with both sides, but “the decision on whether to ban fracking outright or regulate it for environmental protection must be developed on the basis of sound policy and legitimate science.” As of September 2011, New York state and the Delaware River Basin also have similar bans of fracking.