Disappointing to say the least, though not a total cave. The New Jersey legislature had recently passed a bill which would permanently ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for natural gas in the Garden State. Environmental groups – who no doubt watched the fictional film “Gasland” too many times – were hoping they could pressure Christie into signing it in an effort to get moderates and other “green minded” folks back in his corner. In what is no doubt a compromise on a very sticky situation in the northeast, Christie decided to veto the bill, but tacked on an order for a one year moratorium on the practice to allow for “more study.”

Issuing a one-year moratorium on “fracking,” Gov. Chris Christie today issued a conditional veto of S-2576, recommending changes to the legislation that balances protecting New Jersey’s environment and drinking water and encouraging cleaner energy alongside the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

As currently written, S-2576 would permanently prohibit fracking in New Jersey, a drilling technique used for the exploration or production of natural gas, even as concurrent studies on the practice are underway by the federal government and no known natural gas deposits necessitating use of the fracking process have been proposed for development in New Jersey.

“I share many of the concerns expressed by the legislators that sponsored this bill and the environmental advocates seeking a permanent moratorium on fracking. We must ensure that our environment is protected and our drinking water is safe,” said Christie. “I am placing a one-year moratorium on fracking so that the DEP can further evaluate the potential environmental impacts of this practice in New Jersey as well as evaluate the findings of still outstanding and ongoing federal studies.”

Next door in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo (who has his eyes on a 2016 presidential bid if Obama loses next year) has already moved to the middle and is getting ready to open up the Empire state for business in the natural gas boom. He’s been modeling himself after Christie quite a bit, and I hope he doesn’t take this as cover to cave in to the environmentalists who are trying to shut down all chances at the jobs and economic boost such resource exploration could bring.

In a way it’s not hard to understand why Christie might seek some sort of “middle path” on this issue for now. He’s already taken on the state’s massive Democratic majority and won a number of bloody battles on unions, schools and the budget. He could be running out of allies quickly. But it’s still pretty disappointing.

UPDATE: The Marcellus Shale Coalition has already responded with the following:

MSC Statement on NJ Gov. Christie’s One-Year Hydraulic Fracturing Moratorium
FLASHBACK: Christie Pulls New Jersey From 10-State Climate Initiative “because [state] is relying more on natural gas…to fill its energy needs” (5/26/11)

Canonsburg, PA – Marcellus Shale Coalition president and executive director Kathryn Z. Klaber issued the following statement regarding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to enact a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing:

“Our industry is deeply disappointed by Gov. Christie’s decision. While the Marcellus Shale formation does not underlie enough of New Jersey to make it economical to produce, and no natural gas producers are actively seeking to explore for natural gas in the Garden State, this policy sends the wrong message to an entire nation benefitting from the responsible production of clean-burning, American natural gas. Further, the governor’s decision runs contrary to his understandable and laudable promotion of the expanded use of natural in his state’s energy mix.”

UPDATE 2: Energy In Depth responds

WASHINGTON, DC – Energy In Depth executive director Lee Fuller issued the following statement on the announcement that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie indicated support today for a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing – a tightly-regulated 60-year-old technology used to enhance natural gas and oil development – in the Garden State:

“It’s unfortunate and ill-advised that Gov. Christie would seek to ban the regulated use of hydraulic fracturing for any period of time, a technology that has been used safely for generations not only in the context of oil and natural gas, but to stimulate water wells and gain access to geothermal energy.

“As the Garden State’s natural gas demands continue to tick upward, and with the governor touting the clear benefits of this abundant homegrown resource, banning this time-tested technology in the state – where no operators are actively seeking to explore for natural gas – flies directly in the face of common sense.”

Seems to be a theme developing here, Governor.

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