Possibility of Fracking in the Delaware River Basin Creates Uproar

The debate over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Delaware River Basin has intensified, with the New York State Attorney General threatening to take the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to court if it moves too quickly to allow natural gas drilling there. Meanwhile, the DRBC has been inundated with public comments urging it not to adopt drilling regulations that would open the basin up to fracking, and demands from New Jersey that any fracking that is allowed be severely limited and tightly regulated.

The Delaware River Basin, much of which sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale, encompasses parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The basin supplies water to more than 17 million people living in East Coast cities, including Philadelphia and New York City. The basin is regulated by the DRBC, a body whose voting members include the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The DRBC is preparing to adopt new drilling regulations that would allow fracking in the basin. The commission estimates that its proposed regulations will result in 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells being drilled within the basin, most of which are expected to be developed by fracking. However, critics of the DRBC say it hasn’t studied the proposed rules changes enough to ensure that fracking won’t pollute the drinking water sources that millions rely upon.

In a letter sent to the DRBC this week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he will file suit against the federal government if the Delaware River Basin Commission doesn’t commit to a full environmental impact study of its proposed regulations within 30 day.

“Both the law and common sense dictate that the federal government must fully assess the impact of its actions before opening the door to gas fracking in New York,” Schneidermann said in a statement. “New Yorkers are correctly concerned about fracking’s potential dangers to their environment, health and communities, and I will use the full authority of my office, including aggressive legal action, to ensure the federal government is forced to address those concerns.

Schneidermann maintains that fracking poses numerous risks to the environment, health, and communities, including withdrawing large volumes of water from creeks and streams, contamination of drinking water supplies, generation of harmful wastes, increased noise, dust and air pollution, and harms to community infrastructure and character from increased industrial activity. Because of these risks, the attorney general’s office maintains that the federal government is obligated to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by performing a full review of the impact of the DRBC’s proposed natural gas development regulations.

The DRBC is also taking heat from New Jersey over fracking. Last week in formal comments it sent to the commission, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) urged the DRBC to limit the number of production wells allowed in the basin to no more than 300 in the two years immediately following adoption of its proposed regulations. The DRBC then should conduct an extensive study to assess the impact of the initial wells and the effectiveness of its regulations before any further drilling could occur, the DEP comments said.

The New Jersey DEP also wants the DRBC to require proper management and disposal of the waste material derived from fracking, and conclusive evidence that diverting water from the basin does not adversely affect other water users and the environment. In his comments to the commission, DEP commissioner Bob Martin said that if these conditions were not met, “natural gas development activities in the Delaware River Basin will be unacceptable.”

Last Friday marked the deadline for the public to comment on the DRBC’s proposed drilling regulations. According to a report from NJ.com, environmentalists delivered 35,000 public comments opposing natural gas drilling near the Delaware River Basin to the commission last Thursday. More than 7,000 more were delivered to the DRBC online.

“This is the largest number of comments at least in terms of the 12 years that I’ve worked here,” Clarke Rupert, a spokesman for the DRBC said, according to NJ.com.

The groups delivering the anti-fracking comments hope their sheer volume will send a message to the DRBC about public opposition to natural gas development in the basin, NJ.com said.

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