Philadelphia Seeks Fracking Moratorium in Delaware River Basin

The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania city council is seeking a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin. On Thursday, the council asked the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to institute a moratorium on use of the gas drilling technique, also called fracking, until an environmental impact study can be completed.

The Delaware River Basin, which encompasses parts of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, supplies water to several large East Coast cities, including Philadelphia. In making its request, the Philadelphia city council said that known carcinogens are used in the hydraulic fracturing process and that the effects of the practice are unknown.

According to, the DRBC began demanding in June that even exploratory wells in the river basin obtain the commission’s permission before drilling. At the time, DRBC Executive Director Carol Collier said the decision “recognizes the risks to water resources, including ground and surface water that the land disturbance and drilling activities inherent in any shale gas well pose.”

So far, however, it does seem unlikely that a moratorium such as the one requested by the Philadelphia city council will become a reality. Last month, the federal government declined US Rep. Maurice Hinchey’s (D-N.Y.) request that it use its vote on the commission to impose a temporary fracking ban. In a letter to Hinchey, Brig. Gen. Peter “Duke” DeLuca, commander of the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, declined saying that such a move would delay drilling in the region for years. 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.

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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