In the latest state-level action against fracking, the New Jersey legislature today approved a measure to ban the processing of waste from the dirty gas drilling practice. Environment New Jersey and our allies stepped up efforts to build support for the ban after learning that fracking waste had been discharged into the Delaware River by a DuPont facility in Salem County. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38) and Sen. Jen Beck (R-12), passed by a bipartisan landslide margin of 30-5.
“Toxic waste from fracking should not be allowed anywhere near New Jersey’s waterways,” said Doug O’Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey. “The New Jersey Senate chose drinking water over gas drillers today, and we urge Gov. Christie to sign this bill into law.”
Fracking is a gas drilling technique that involves pumping a mix of chemicals, sand and water down a well at such high pressure that it cracks open gas-bearing rock formations. When the process is complete, wastewater—often laced with toxics like benzene, heavy metals, and even radioactive material—flows back to the surface. Fracking wastewater has contaminated drinking water sources on numerous occasions in other states.
While fracking has yet to commence in New Jersey, the gas drilling boom next door in Pennsylvania has already produced more than 1.3 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater. Chemical companies—including DuPont—have started to bring some of that waste into New Jersey.
“Fracking is a potent source of toxic waste,” said O’Malley. “That is the last thing New Jersey needs.”
Based on the experience of our sister organizations in states where fracking is happening, Environment New Jersey cited documented cases of fracking waste polluting drinking water and causing other problems, including:
In Pennsylvania, after fracking wastewater was discharged from sewage treatment plants into the Monongahela River, the state advised 325,000 people in and around Pittsburgh not to use their tap water for more than a week.
In New Mexico, state records show drilling waste has contaminated groundwater at nearly 400 different sites.
In Ohio, deep well-injection of fracking wastewater was linked to a 4.0 level earthquake in the Youngstown area last December.
Environment New Jersey and its allies have worked to build public support for the frack waste ban—with citizen activists writing letters to the editor, emailing and calling their legislators. A week and a half ago, more than 150 citizens came to Trenton to urge the Legislature to take action. The senate vote today followed the Assembly’s approval of the measure last week, by a vote of 59-19.
Today’s vote in New Jersey marks a growing chorus of states voicing deep concern over the issue. Earlier this year, Vermont also banned the processing of fracking wastewater (and fracking itself), and New York’s Assembly voted to regulate the wastewater like other hazardous wastes.
The states’ actions fills a vacuum as oil and gas waste is exempt from the nation’s hazardous waste laws, explained John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment New Jersey.
“Fracking has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment and our health—poisoning waters, making families sick, and turning forests into industrial zones,” Rumpler said. “The measure passed in the New Jersey legislature today will not only help keep local drinking water safe but also set a precedent to put the brakes on fracking pollution elsewhere.”
Environment New Jersey and our allies will now turn the spotlight to Gov. Chris Christie, who conditionally vetoed a ban on fracking itself (as opposed to waste processing) last June. The Governor has 45 days to consider the legislation before a decision is required.
Environment New Jersey is a statewide, citizen-supported environmental advocacy organization representing more than 30,000 citizen members.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.