Feds Decline to Block Fracking in Delaware River Basin

The federal government has declined a New York lawmaker’s request that it use its vote on the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to impose a temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking in parts of Pennsylvania and New York. The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to 5 percent of the country’s population.

Seats on the DRBC are filled by the US Army Corps. of Engineers and representatives of the governors of four states, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The DRBC was created in 1961 to address regional water conflicts, and oversees water quality and quantity issues in the 13,539-square-mile basin. Right now, the commission has a moratorium on gas drilling in the region, but according to the Times, environmental groups were seeking to block the drilling of test wells that were “grandfathered in.”

According to The New York Times, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), a long-time critic of hydraulic fracturing, had asked the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, which has a seat on the commission, to seek a temporary ban on gas production in the watershed while the DRBC completes a “cumulative impact statement.” The DRBC is preparing to finish drilling regulations — which would allow production to start — this year, the Times said.

However, in a letter to Hinchey, Brig. Gen. Peter “Duke” DeLuca, commander of the North Atlantic Division, declined saying that such a move would delay drilling in the region for years. “The federal family of agencies that I represent on the commission are collectively charged with a requirement to support the economic needs of the region and our nation’s need to secure energy reserves while protecting the environment,” DeLuca wrote.

On September 15 – a day after DeLuca’s letter was sent – his representative on the commission, Lt. Col. Philip Secrist, voted to continue limited exploratory drilling in the basin, the Times said. At that meeting, Secrist pointedly noted that he was “representing President Obama” on the commission.

Hinchey was obviously not pleased with this outcome. “The response is deeply troubling and raises a lot of questions about how the ACOE [Army Corps of Engineers] views its role as the federal government’s representative to the DRBC,” a Hinchey spokesman told the Times in an e-mailed statement. “The congressman will be following up on this matter shortly.”

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As we’ve reported in the past, fracking has been linked to water contamination in several states, including Pennsylvania.

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