*UPDATE II* Is Hydraulic Fracturing the ‘Greatest Threat’ to New Jersey’s Water?

Last week the New Jersey legislature passed an ill-informed measure that would ban hydraulic fracturing on the dubious basis that it “represents the greatest threat to New Jersey’s water supply than anything else we face today.” Of course, as EID carefully explained in a letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, hydraulic fracturing has never in its 60-year history been tied to the contamination of drinking water. The EPA’s own Lisa Jackson recently admitted that she’s not aware of a single case where the hydraulic fracturing process itself has contaminated water. (You can read more about what state regulators have said about hydraulic fracturing not impacting water by clicking here.)

Speaking of New Jersey’s water, yesterday the EPA actually announced a plan to clean up groundwater at a Superfund site in Pedricktown, NJ, where, it should be noted, there is no hydraulic fracturing taking place. Apparently even without a singled fractured well in the Garden State, the state’s water supply is so contaminated with heavy metals such as lead and cadmium that the federal government is intervening. New Jersey actually has a long history of water pollution from Superfund sites, which, dare it be said once again, has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing.

And what does EPA plan to do about this particular site?

EPA had originally planned to pump the contaminated ground water to the surface, treat it, and discharge the treated ground water into the Delaware River. This type of treatment is no longer needed because pollutant levels in the ground water have gone down significantly as the sources of the contamination have been removed. EPA conducted a review of newer treatment methods, and is now proposing to inject a non-hazardous additive into the ground water that will absorb metal compounds such as lead and cadmium and remove the dissolved contaminants from the ground water.

Got that? New Jersey’s water is already contaminated with toxic substances, yet the legislature has declared a process that doesn’t even exist in the state — hydraulic fracturing – to be the “greatest threat” to its drinking water supplies. And now the EPA is proposing to inject chemicals into New Jersey residents’ water in the hopes that doing so will make it cleaner.

Also of note: One of the techniques that the Environmental Protection Agency commonly uses to assist in cleaning up Superfund sites is…hydraulic fracturing. Oh, the irony.

(To be fair, the New Jersey legislature’s ban is only in the context of producing natural gas, but it’s still interesting given the wild assertion that hydraulic fracturing — an environmentally sound process that the EPA uses to help clean up water — is somehow the greatest threat to the New Jersey’s available water supplies.)

UPDATE (7/8/11, 12:41pm EDT): Not to pile on, but the unrelated-to-gas-production water contamination stories in New Jersey are…piling up. And apparently so is raw sewage, according to the EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prepared an important report, Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of the Public’s Water, to answer commonly asked questions about combined sewer overflows. To read or download a copy of the report, visit http://www.epa.gov/region2/water/. To see an illustration of how serious a problem this is in Brooklyn, go to: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/sewage-overflow-in-new-york-believe-it/.

Many of the sewer systems in New York State and New Jersey and some in Puerto Rico are combined systems that carry sewage from homes and businesses as well as rainwater collected from street drains. When they overflow during heavy rains, the rainwater mixes with sewage and results in raw sewage being directly discharged into water bodies. These discharges are called combined sewer overflows and can pose serious environmental and public health risks.

“Clean water is vital to people’s health and our economy and is a priority for the EPA,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “We’ve seen improvements in water quality since the passage of the Clean Water Act forty years ago, but there is much more to be done to protect our rivers, harbors, lakes and streams. EPA’s new report provides important information on the laws that protect our waterways and the actions that can be taken to reduce water pollution.”

Keyword searches don’t always work, but it does not appear that the terms “natural gas” or “hydraulic fracturing” appear once in that release.

UPDATE II (7/11/11, 1:48pm EDT) Remember that time hydraulic fracturing created a Superfund site in New Jersey? Neither does the EPA, which announced today yet another cleanup plan for the squalid wonder that is New Jersey’s water supply:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed plan to cleanup the Crown Vantage Landfill Superfund site in Alexandria Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The former landfill is contaminated with volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls and other pollutants. Volatile organic compounds are a group of chemicals that evaporate easily into the air and have serious health effects. Polychlorinated biphenyls are potentially cancer-causing in people and build up in the fat of fish and animals. The landfill is 10 acres and a small portion sits on the eastern bank of the Delaware River. The EPA has already completed most of the cleanup work at the site, including removing over 2,450 drums and related waste from the landfill, and the site does not present an imminent risk to public health.

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