New Jersey's one-year moratorium on the controversial technique of natural-gas extraction known as fracking expired Thursday with little fanfare.
While energy industry officials maintain that the natural-gas deposits in the state's northwest corner are too deep and uncertain to make hydraulic fracturing economically viable in the near term, environmentalists have lobbied heavily for continuing the ban as protection against the type of development seen across the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania.
Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon Jr. (R., Monmouth) is pushing legislation to renew the moratorium until a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on fracking's impact on drinking-water supplies is completed - findings are not expected until next year.
"There's so much cheaper gas to be extracted in other places, and gas prices are so low right now, nobody is rushing in here," he said. "But we can't let our guard down, and need to pay attention."
Even so, lobbyists for the energy industry continue to push back against a new moratorium.
"It would be good to have a set of rules and guidelines if someone were to express an interest in New Jersey, as they have in other parts of the country," said Jim Benton, executive director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council. "Everybody would benefit from that, as opposed to an absolute ban."
That position worries environmentalists, who want to see a permanent ban in the event that there comes a time - when natural gas prices rise, for instance - that fracking in New Jersey might make sense.
"The one-year moratorium was a fig leaf," said Doug O'Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey. "We need New Jersey to send a strong message to our neighbors we're not going to tolerate fracking."
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