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Controversial 'Fracking' Vote Canceled For Monday

Critical vote on Monday canceled after Delaware Governor Jack Markell said he had major concerns with "fracking", which environmentalists say will cause irreparable harm to the region

The increasing pressure environmental groups and state legislators put on four governors tasked to determine if a controversial gas drilling process known as "fracking" could sweep through the region may have prevented a critical vote from being held on Monday.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell wrote a letter Thursday to the members of the Delaware River Water Basin Commission (DRWBC) – comprised of the governors of Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Army Corps of Engineers – saying that he would vote against a regional agency plan to mine the Delaware watershed for natural gas. Thousands rallied in all four states to prevent and protest a vote.

Subsequently, Monday's vote was canceled and has not been rescheduled, according to the DWBC.

"Apparently Delaware and New York were going to vote 'no' and that left it to New Jersey and Pennsylvania," said New Jersey State Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-38), one of the most ardent opponents of fracking. "We knew Pennsylvania was going to vote 'yes' and probably New Jersey would have been voting 'yes', which means the federal government must have had some doubts."

Wagner, who was the prime sponsor of a bill in New Jersey's lower house to outright ban fracking, joined a crowd of 60 environmental activists and concerned citizens in Ridgewood's on Thursday night for a rally against fracking.

It was one of dozens of rallies held in the affected states before word of the vote cancellation. Even with the cancellation, 1,000 people are expected to march on Trenton on Monday, according to 350.org organizer Matt Smith.

"With education and with people taking a stand, people do have the power to make a difference," Wagner stated in an interview Friday. "I congratulate all the environmental groups for working so hard to make sure this doesn't happen. It causes people to take notice and say, 'maybe this isn't good for the Delaware Water Basin, maybe this isn't good for the quality of our drinking water which will affect our health.'"

Fracking for natural gas has been touted, largely in television commercials sponsored by corporations with interests in drilling, as a way to safely and effectively extract natural gas from more than a mile underground, well below, they say, where drinking water comes from. There are vast quantities of natural gas beneath the Marcellus Shale, a 575-mile area in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York but not New Jersey, where the Utica Shale exists in a small corner of the northwest portion of the state.

Governor Chris Christie in August vetoed a bi-partisan bill passed in the state legislature to ban fracking in New Jersey.

Wagner was unsure if the legislature would be able to overturn the veto before the lame duck session ends in January of 2012. A moratorium extension of five years to properly study environmental impacts would be a compromise she could accept, the assemblywoman said.

The governor's office refused to comment Friday, referring questions to the state DEP.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said it has requested the DRWBC "ensure there are good and strict regulations in place."

Ragonese said the DEP's recommendations would be the stiffest in the country, though they're not nearly tough enough for detractors.

"Our recommendation included kind of a pilot program, a phased-in possibility which would allow for 30 pods to be constructed in the basin, so a small limited number which would operate for 18 months and then be assessed," Ragonese said.

He said dangers with 30 pods would be minimal at best. 

"This would give us real solid data, some real science as to what impact it could be for fracking in the Delaware River Basin," he said. "As the Department of Environmental Protection, our number one goal is the environment so we're concerned solely with protecting the water resources and the natural resources of the Delaware River basin."

Put simply,  is accomplished by using a pressurized fracking fluid to carve veins into shale rock deep in the earth. The mini-earthquake that results underground creates cracks around the veins, which results in the release of natural gas. The gas is then brought to the surface in the form of a liquid and is then separated.

As many as 500 chemicals are used in the process, environmentalists say. Fracking is exempted under federal Clean Air and Safe Drinking Act provisions.

The Delaware River provides drinking water to 15 million people in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The controversial drilling process has aroused the concern of environmental activists who say hydraulic fracturing will pollute groundwater, damage air quality and could lead to more future earthquakes. 

According to activist group Water Defense, New York and Pennsylvania are estimated to use over 10 billion gallons of water over the next decade should the gas companies find support. The water would be drawn from the public's drinking sources, they say.

It's a concern of Ridgewood Mayor Keith Killion.

"My concern is naturally the water, the water of Ridgewood, Wyckoff, Glen Rock and Midland Park, as well as the aquifers," he said, pointing to the towns served by publicly-owned . "Speaking personally, I think there are other ways to get energy. Once we lose our water supply, you can't turn it back. Is it really worth it?"

"It's not okay to be allowed to be scared into thinking we need gas," added , of Wyckoff. Shugarman, a Climate Educator for the Climate Reality Project, said Thursday that the government should invest more in renewable energy as opposed to eyeing the controversial extraction method.

In hardscrabble Pennsylvania coal country residents are divided on the issue, according to an article in the New York Times Magazine. Some have reaped economic rewards by leasing their land to gas companies, a boon in a region with economic hardship. But reports of gas leaks, increasing reports of strange illnesses, sudden deaths of otherwise healthy animals and water quality concerns have also led to a backlash from citizens.

Although the vote will not come on Monday, New Jersey and the others are not out of the woods, Wagner said.

"It doensn't mean they won't do it next week, in two weeks or a month from now...we need to do this [ban] for our children and our grandchildren."

Edward Van Embden contributed to this report.

Russell W. Ganz November 20, 2011 at 05:37 PM
If the process known as "fracking" is safe,as assured by the gas companies, WHY did they need to apply for exemption from the Clean Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act? This process is ruining water aquifers across the U.S. This process needs to be stopped NOW! The gas companies are taking advantage of the families that are effected by the downturn in the economy. They offer nice sums of money for the drilling rites on private land, and when things go wrong, they deny responsibility but then have to supply clean drinking water to the effected families.We must put an end to this process NOW!
Alice Cole November 21, 2011 at 01:20 AM
It is a known fact that potable water is becoming in short supply worldwide. Now the gas/oil industry would have us lose a large per cent of precious water to the unsafe and potentially deadly practice of fracking. It is amazing what a total lack of moral responsibility exists in the gas/oil industry in particular.
Russell W. Ganz November 21, 2011 at 11:25 AM
Where have they used this process for developing wells for drinking water?
Bruce Knuckle November 21, 2011 at 12:00 PM
If my gas bill goes down I'm all for it.
Russell W. Ganz November 21, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Bruce, If you have a little time, please watch the documentary GASLAND. I think you will change your mind.
Russell W. Ganz November 22, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Please answer my original question. Why did the gas companies have to get an Exemption from the Clean Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act?
Bruce Knuckle November 22, 2011 at 02:00 AM
Russ, I can probably find documentaries for both sides of the arguments. The bottom line is dollars and nothing is going to stand in the way. So , since that is the case, I vote for a lower bill. I might seem carless, but, I gave upt when we still allow ocean drilling for oil.
Russell W. Ganz November 22, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Bruce, You give up too easily. Corporate America does not have the right to ruin our country or world. They must be held accountable for their actions. No science is exact, but we , as a nation, cannot allow Corporate Greed to ruin our country or world for future generations.As the addage goes"Give them an inch,and they will take a mile". I am not willing to give Corporate America in general and the gas companies specificly "that Inch".
William Mays November 22, 2011 at 04:59 AM
How are they destroying the economy, they are trying to protect the water that we drink and swim in.
Bruce Knuckle November 22, 2011 at 12:45 PM
This is all fracked up
Ken F. November 22, 2011 at 03:01 PM
I found this to be very informative. http://www.americanrivers.org/our-work/protecting-rivers/fracking/?gclid=CP2Ai-S_yqwCFcp65QodHxQdqg
Andy Schmidt November 23, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Malcolm, I'm no expert in the frackig debate - but I DO supply 100% of my electricity from the solar panels on my own roof (without even using the entire surface area of my roof or any of my garage at all. Current rules prevent me from generating MORE than my own annual use). So: Very practical in practice.
Russell W. Ganz November 24, 2011 at 04:04 AM
Andy, what is the output of your system?
Andy Schmidt November 24, 2011 at 04:13 AM
Grid-tie. This way, my spring and fall production is "stored" in the grid (in form of monetary credit) during the month of modest use and available during the A/C months of July/August and the Christmas light and winter months when we use more in-door lights.
Andy Schmidt November 24, 2011 at 04:21 AM
26 panels rated at 6.3 kW, producing close to 8,200 kWh in the past 12 month (a rainy year).
Andy Schmidt November 24, 2011 at 05:11 AM
With incentives, it pays for itself in under 4.5 years - without incentives it would pay for itself within 15 - 20 years, so within the lifetime of the modules -- assuming gas prices remain frozen for that time ( so the most conservative calculation). In reality, since fossile fuels are limited in supply (because they are not renewable), require increasingly more expensive "mining" techniques to get to (until there are none left), and face ever increasing demand by the industrialization and population growth in former developing nations, the cost of these fuels must continue to rise steadily (the basic market laws of scarce supply vs. rising demand) -- paying for the solar investment even quicker.
Andy Schmidt December 02, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Real-world example: Just got my electric "bill" from Rockland Electric. According to the second page, the customer average for November was 720 kWh. My usage was -36 (that's a negative number). So, even though we are getting close to the least amount of sun light for the entire year (meaning less production) and we are using more indoor lights and appliances (less time spent outside in the cold) - my house was MORE than sustaining its electric needs. I've travelled to Germany several times in the past years and when driving across the country (out of the big cities), I was floored to see countless villages in Bavaria where most houses, even barns, had roof panels. Imagine how the impact we could have on our dependency on a shrinking supply for fossile fuels that can only be brought to light at increasing expense (and environmental risk), if our country would be as proactive in investing in technologies that won't be certain dead-ends.

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