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A Fracking Political Joke – Ban Bill A Hollow Gesture

[Update #2 – 8/26/11 – Bergen Record coverage puts Christie if a favorable light by a headline that makes it appear that he was initiating positive action, instead of reacting to and opposing a legislative initiative. Story also makes enviro’s look silly for making such a big deal out of nothing: Christie proposes 1-year gas drilling ban.

Writer Scott Fallon buried the most significant news – broken by another devastating NY Times story: Geologists Sharply Cut Estimate of Shale Gas, a followup on recent story that exposed fracking as a “Ponzi scheme” -  in the final paragraphs:

Christie’s action comes as federal scientists have discovered the amount of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from upstate New York to Tennessee, is about 80 percent less than originally estimated.

OOPS! Reserve estimates off by 80%! Economics of a Ponzi scheme!

So this is ANOTHER example of how NJ ENGO’s – via their “ban campaign”” – are diverting from the real issues about fracking.

Instead of NJ press reporting on 80% errors and Ponzi schemes, they cover meaningless symbolic gestures that make Christie look good. Heckofa job! – end]

Update #1: The Governor issued his CV, but initial press reports were inaccurate. The moratorium is 1 year, not 5.

Please read the CV (click here). The CV will frame the media coverage.

Note, how cleverly the Governor points out the fact that there are no fracking drilling proposals in NJ.

Observe how he deflects accountability by pointing the finger at Washington DC by noting the ongoing federal EPA study, knowing full well that Obama supports fracking.

Note that,  just as I feared, how the bill and the ban strategy by enviro’s actually allowed  the Governor to dodge the following points, all of which are the most important. :

1) DRBC vote

2) management of billions of gallons of toxic and radioactive waste-water;

3) intensive use of water – billions of gallons – needed for NJ water supply and ecological and recreational uses of the Delaware River

4) huge amount of land disturbance – which will harm habitat, reduce Delaware River water quality, and increase already unacceptable  downstream NJ flooding risk

5) significant negative economic effects on investments in efficiency and renewables

6) huge disruptions and destruction caused by pipeline construction

7) the CV mentions, but in error, alleged lower greenhouse gas emissions – end update

News reports indicate that today Governor Christie will conditionally veto the bill that would ban fracking in NJ.

Instead of a ban, the Gov. reportedly will issue a Conditional Veto (CV) in support of a 5 year moratorium.

The Democratic legislature would then have 3 options: 1) seek an over-ride of the Gov.’s CV and impose the ban (an over-ride is highly unlikely to prevail; 2) concur with the Gov.’s CV and go with a 5 year moratorium; or 3) do nothing and let the measure die.

So, I thought I’d try to get the real story out ahead of all the spin that is bound to ensue.

We testified on and wrote about that bill as it moved through the legislative process (see: NJ Legislators Look To Block Fracking to Protect Delaware River)

Based on that testimony, we were asked by the Committee Chair to draft amendments that would have put teeth in the bill by banning importation of fracking wastewater (see: Assembly Committee Hears An Unacceptable Fracking Compromise

Wow – a ban. That sounds like a tough pro-environmental measure, right?

Wrong. This is not a half measure “step in the right direction” – this is a no measure, or arguably a setback.

It is a symbolic gesture  that actually has negative consequences – a fracking  political disaster. Here’s why:

1. The bill would have no impact on fracking in NJ.

NJ does not have economically recoverable gas to frack. The bill would ban something that would never happen.

The bill is a symbolic gesture. Both sponsors have admitted that in open legislative hearings.

Even the AP is now reporting that in today’s set up story:

The measure is largely symbolic. Experts say there’s not enough natural gas under New Jersey to drill for.

There is no economically recoverable frack gas in NJ. There are tremendous gas reserves in neighboring NY and PA. There will never be any fracking in NJ.

2. The bill diverts attention from the real fracking issues NJ faces

The real threat to NJ from fracking is from NY and PA drilling in the Delaware Watershed (oh, and did I mention gas pipelines? Or the way artificially cheap gas will kill efficiency and renewables?  Or that the climate benefits of gas are greatly exaggerated and lifecycle carbon emissions may be as high as coal? )

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has a moratorium on fracking in the watershed in place right now.

That moratorium would end upon adoption of proposed flawed regulations.

Christie’s DEP Commissioner sits on the DRBC and is supporting proposed draft DRBC regulations.

Those DRBC regulations are seriously flawed and their adoption by DRBC would end the current DRBC moratorium on fracking.

Lifting the current DRBC moratorium would open the door to over 18,000 wells in NY and Pennsylvania, according to DRBC. Those wells would use over 100 BILLION gallons of water; generate more than 25 BILLION gallons of toxic hazardous wastewater with unsafe levels of radioactive contaminants; and destroy over 150,000 aces of forests and farms, more than all the land protected by the NJ Highlands Act.

3. The bill provides political cover for Democrats.

Both Senate and Assembly Democratic prime sponsors of the NJ fracking ban bill had introduced other bills that would have prevented DEP from approving DRBC regulations  (see point #2 above).

Both legislators abandoned that far tougher bill after pressure from oil, gas, and chemical industry lobbyists.

The Gov.’s Office threatened to veto that bill as an encroachment on his Executive powers.

The Dems were not willing to fight and abandoned that bill – that was the real protection for NJ drinking water and the Delaware River.

To make matters worse, the Dems killed amendments to the symbolic ban bill that would have put teeth in it by banning importation of fracking wastewater. That is a real possibility, as the gas industry seeks options to dispose of hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater.

The NJ enviro’s did not criticize those moves by the Dems.

4. The bill would have no legal or political impact on other states or the federal government

The only credible argument in support of this symbolic gesture was that it could be a precedent and have an impact on other states.

But PA is strongly backing fracking and NY Governor Cuomo recently cut a deal to greatly expand fracking in NY.

The Obama administration already came out in support of fracking.

5. The bill ends up politically rewarding Governor Christie

ENGO’s drew a line in the sand, really ramped up this issue with flame throwing rhetoric, and demanded a ban. A ban is publicly perceived as an extreme measure.

A 5 year moratorium sounds far more reasonable.

In the press and court of public opinion, Christie will now look like a pro-environment moderate by seeking a 5 year moratorium.

Net result: Christie gets credit for doing nothing, the public is duped, and real problems go unaddressed.

This is what happens when the advocates play these kind of political games. [Clarification:politically, setting the bar so low and rewarding Dems for doing nothing sends a message that you are weak and willing to be used. At the same time, scathing attacks on the Gov. for a CV of a meaningless bill reinforces his belief that enviro’s are lightweights on policy, dupes of the Dems, and that other legitimate criticisms are non-substantive and partisan.]

Worst of all possible worlds here – we all get fracked.

[Update: 9/15/11: As we predicted, Christie accused enviro’s of being partisan and political in today’s APP story on nutrients:

Christie argued that the criticism was political.“There are some folks in the environmental movement who will never give me credit for anything I do, because they didn’t support me in the election and they’re Democrats, so they’ve got a political agenda,” he said.

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