The borough council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve a resolution calling for a state ban on hydraulic fracturing, but not before officials debated whether such a resolution was appropriate.
Councilman David Goldfarb said while he supports careful analysis and regulation, he is concerned about the council voting on resolutions that “go far beyond issues that affect Princeton Borough directly.” He also questioned whether the council should support an outright ban or just a moratorium.
“There is no plan to do fracking in the Princeton area and our water is regulated and carefully tested,” Goldfarb said. “It is not a Princeton issue. It is a broader issue like many of the other issues that may concern the community. I prefer not to consider resolutions of this type.”
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, involves injecting water and additives, some toxic, under high pressure into the ground to break apart the geologic formation and release the gas. Some of it comes back to the surface, laden with more contaminants. Spills of fluids have contaminated some waterways, Pennsylvania inspectors have found.
Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed a bill that would have banned hydraulic fracturing outright in New Jersey, calling for a one-year moratorium instead. The move angered many environmentalists, and critics said it signaled that the state is unlikely to push for strong regulations as one of the five members on the Delaware River Basin Commission, which oversees the watershed supplying much of the Philadelphia region’s drinking water.
Goldfarb said there are all kinds of assertions about the kinds of problems that may be associated with fracking.
“This resolution basically comes to the conclusion that problems are serious enough that we should support a statewide ban, not a moratorium, ” he said. But there is nothing here, no scientific basis, to assume that franking is suck a threat to Princetonians that we should support a ban. We non-scientific officials are being asked to conclude that franking is so bad we should support a ban in New Jersey. There is no basis for me to support an outright ban.”
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller countered that many municipalities in the state have passed similar resolutions related to fracking. “A lot of environmental damages are known,” she said. “We don’t have confirmation of some, but enough are known to support a ban.”
Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad said while she agrees in principle that the council should not pass resolutions on issues that are not specific to Princeton, franking is a significant enough environmental concern to do so. “We are in the Delaware River Water Shed,” she said. “I think this does in some way affect us more than other issues.”
Goldfarb said the issue is one of many topics that concern people in town. “We could do nothing but consider resolutions that concern people in town and we could become the debating society on the issues of our of our day,” he said. “But our role is to weigh the issues facing our town.”
Steve Hiltner of the Princeton Environmental Commission described the intricate water system of rivers and canals that bring water to a treatment plant and then to Princeton, and said the commission supports the ban.
“A lot of people are very concerned about this issue,” he said. “The governor was going to support a five-year moratorium in August, then he did a switcharoo. It upset a lot of people.”
Hiltner said the use of natural gas to heat homes drives the push for underground fossil fuel, and perhaps the council should consider passing a resolution encouraging people to reduce their use of natural gas.
“Fracking is is a concern like any kind of fossil fuel,” Hiltner said. “It has a price tag coming out of the ground. We should be concerned, period, about natural gas. We are driving a lot of this pollution.”
Environmental Commission member Steve Miller said fracking should be put under the Safe Drinking Water Act, requiring the disclosure of the chemicals used in the process.
Goldfarb said he could not vote on a ban, but a one-year moratorium would be acceptable and then the council could revisit the issue.
But his fellow council members disagreed and felt it was important to make a statement.
“The economics that drive the fracking industry are large, deeply persuasive, and will come back to fight the ban,” Councilman Roger Martindell said.
Note: An earlier version of this story characterized Steve Hiltner as saying people should not use natural gas. He meant they should reduce their consumption of natural gas.