NJ Lawmakers Want to Keep Pennsylvania's Frack Water From Crossing State Lines

  • Susan Phillips

truck, susque county

Kim Paynter / WHYY/Newsworks

A truck hauls waste water from a drill site in Susquehanna County, Pa.


A New Jersey Assembly committee approved a bill that would ban the state’s sewage treatment plants from accepting natural gas drilling wastewater. The lawmakers worry the frack water from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling boom could end up in the Garden State. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection asked the state’s municipal treatment facilities to stop treating the wastewater, which they had been discharging into rivers and streams. Frack water contains high levels of salts and some radioactive materials that municipal sewage treatment facilities are not able to treat.
A few private treatment facilities in Pennsylvania do treat the waste water, using either reverse osmosis or thermal distillation. Those facilities have permits to discharge the bulk of the water back into the waterways. But a portion of the water contains highly concentrated contaminants and gets sent down deep injection wells. Many of the drillers in Pennsylvania are using the treated wastewater to frack other wells. Others are sending their waste water to deep well injection sites in Ohio, where it is sent down deep into the earth.

Drilling wastewater could also come from New York state, which currently has a drilling moratorium until new regulations are implemented. Environmentalists are worried that when New York’s drill rigs begin to operate, the drillers will look to New Jersey as a place to dispose of their waste water. The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee approved the bill. But it’s unlikely to go to a full vote before the end of this session.
Groups like the New Jersey Sierra Club praised the move. But some say the bill could stifle the development of private water treatment facilities, which are equipped to handle the water.