DRBC Set to Vote on Fate of The Delaware

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is the only government entity standing between industrial shale gas drilling in the “Special Protection Waters” of the Delaware River watershed region and the 15.6 million people living downstream in Southeastern PA who rely on this river for drinking water. In September, the DRBC held its final public hearing on the issue of rules for horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware Basin in West Trenton, NJ. At least they held it, right? The hearing was called for 1:30pm, but Food & Water Watch, Protecting Our Waters, and other water action groups had a protest going by noon. The upshot: The DRBC is currently scheduled to vote on whether to allow fracking in the Delaware River Basin on November 21, 2011.

An interstate commission, the DRBC is comprised of the governors and their appointed representatives from the four states who share the precious fresh water resources of the Delaware River Basin. They are: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. An Army Corps of Engineers Colonel chairs the commission, serving as a federal presence. Pennsylvania’s people are: Governor Corbett (1st Vice Chair), Michael Krancer (1st Alternate, Alternate 1st Vice Chair), John T. Hines (2nd Alternate), Kelly Heffner (3rd Alternate) and Charlie Kirkwood (4th Alternate).

“If we lose the Delaware River to fracking we’ve lost one of our biggest drinking water supplies and one of our nation’s most precious natural resources. Once toxic fracking chemicals pollute this river, the ensuing public health crisis could impact millions from Delaware to New York, causing widespread and irreversible devastation,” said Jim Walsh, Eastern Region Director for Food & Water Watch. Click to read the full FWW press release on the DRBC hearing protests.

Commission with a Mission?

The main concern etched across the spectrum of anti-fracking blogs is that the DRBC hearing was a mere formality. Testimony lasted only four hours, and while we have been made aware that new New Draft Regulations have been written, the public is not yet privy to them. We do know that, much like the old New Draft Regulations, they will end the current moratorium on drilling and allow hydraulic fracturing to begin once they go into effect. They will most likely resemble the current DEP recommendations to the governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. The problem is the current DEP recommendations, much like the old New Draft Regulations, fall short.

Many question whether the DRBC even has legitimate authority to approve this chemically-intensive drilling process in the basin. They have not evaluated the results of a comprehensive impact study, which their own charter mandates. None exists, nor has one been commissioned. Essentially, the DRBC was meant to serve as an impartial, multi-state scientific commission yet they don’t appear poised to wait for science.

Since 2005, gas drillers have been exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). Horizontal hydraulic fracturing uses known carcinogens like benzene, which is toxic in as little as one part per million. These chemicals, used by gas drillers, enjoy what 2011 Heinz Award-winner, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, describes as “the environmental equivalent of diplomatic immunity.”

Governor Corbett thinks this is a great idea because there’s lots of money and jobs at stake, and he’s even willing to tax the drillers now – as long as we call it an “impact fee.” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer is fine with this, too. As far as he is concerned, the whole idea of the DRBC making rules to ensure the protection of the watershed from shale gas drilling is “duplicative and unnecessary.” He wrote that he’d prefer the DRBC be “scaled back” to regulate only “water withdrawals, waste­water discharges and in-stream monitoring.” His view is that we should rely solely upon individual member state’s regulatory programs.  [Source: StateImpact.npr.org]

For over six years now, gas drillers have been trucking tanker loads of chemicals to other Pennsylvania river basins such as the Susquehanna. They only stopped dumping their waste in our outmoded treatment plants last May. Companies are still not legally required to publicly disclose the chemicals they use, except generally and privately to the DEP, and not for each and every well. For that we would need the FRAC Act. Drillers do claim to recycle and recapture 100% of their mysterious, proprietary brew, along with all the other naturally occurring toxins they dredge up in the process, like Radium 226, but their reports aren’t verified and the DEP doesn’t have the personnel, or the political inclination, to inspect every last well, landfill and train car.

So do you believe them? Are you willing to take their word for it every time you turn on the tap?

Drillers Dig Northeastern PA

The biggest problem with hydraulic fracturing in the Upper Delaware region is that it’s a unique, productive, high-quality watershed. Large concentrations of population rely on it, from NYC to Eastern PA, NJ and Delaware. It also appears – maybe on account of all that water? – that the Marcellus up there is more brittle and porous. The gas is purer, too. Also, the problems of methane migration seem to be more frequent and severe. It’s obvious, even to the total layperson, that the Delaware’s underground aquifers, and the millions of private water wells drilled into them, are far more interconnected than was previously understood. Contrary to common belief, there’s no official map of underground rivers and caverns in Pennsylvania. Until there is, how anyone on earth assure us that they can truly protect our fragile watershed? It feels like we’re to be gas guinea pigs, sacrificing the sanctity of our fresh water supply in the name of one more dirty fossil fuel.

Corbett, the DEP and gas drillers say don’t worry, keep drilling. Triple cement well bore casings will protect us all! That appealing notion, it turns out, is up there with the wastewater recycling PR. According to the industry’s own science, the most technologically advanced cement available today will last 100 years at best. That means our grandchildren will have to deal with a drastic increase in the toxicity of their drinking water so we can get this gas right now. (Thanks, Grandma!) What’s more, fracking in a seismically active zone is a statistically bad gamble. Natural fractures shifting deep in underground are likely to shear apart even the most advanced well bore seals. For their part, wastewater treatment companies have only just begun to build their operational portfolios in our region. They’ll be the first to tell you that “recycling” this kind of toxic waste is complex and challenging work. It also happens to be quite profitable. Gas drillers would prefer you not know it, but even they acknowledge that the wastewater biz is still very much in its infancy. Source: Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Cornell University

It’s safe to say, even if gas drillers, waste recyclers and the DEP get gas right 100% of the time, even if we never have another flood, hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack, we’ll still be still left to contend with an unprecedented amount of industrial water and air pollution. Obviously, a perfect batting average is unlikely, but how is Pennsylvania actually doing? In 2010, there were 2,759 Total Violations with 1514 Total Inspections – that’s an average of 1.8 violations per inspection. The average has  lowered slightly this year, with 1450 Total Inspections resulting in 2569 Total Violations as of August, 2011.  [Source: PA DEP]

Fracking the Delaware will require several hundred million gallons of toxic wastewater per year to be treated and redeposited into our rivers, becoming an inexorable part of our hydrological cycle. Toxic air emissions around drilling sites, pipeline junctures and processing plants, such as those planned to export Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), will be off the charts – that’s if there are any. My fear is, if the Delaware is open to drilling, there will be no way to avoid heightened levels of toxic pollution in Southeastern PA. Carginogens such as benzene, heavy metals like barium, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and radioactive compounds cannot simply be filtered out of our water and air. Even in trace amounts, they will flow and accumulate in the riverbeds and wells downstream, informing the water that Aqua PA pulls, treats and pumps into our homes. You could drink only Fiji water, you could even bathe in it, but ultimately these toxins will turn up in the locally grown, organic heirloom tomato you pick up at the Farmer’s Market, too.

If the DRBC approves the new proposed, as yet undisclosed, drilling regulations on November 21, 2011, our tap water will be at significantly greater risk of industrial pollution.

Flood DRBC with Letters & eMails – Again!
November 21, 2011 is Don’t Drill the Delaware Day in the Delaware River Watershed! Public health is at risk, and your opinion should be heard. Here are a few links to petitions worth signing. There are more online everyday, but these are a great place to start. Better still, go ahead and send a letter or email (feel free to paste in the one below). Tell the Delaware River Basin Commission to STOP and WAIT FOR SCIENTIFIC STUDY before irreversibly opening our fresh water resources to industrial shale gas drilling!  

Delaware Riverkeepers

Food and Water Watch

Protecting Our Waters


To: carol.collier@drbc.state.nj.us

Re: No Fracking in the Delaware River Basin – Please!

Dear Ms. Collier,

The political pressures on the DRBC are clearly enormous, yet I urge you to pause – once again – before allowing hydraulic fracturing to commence in the Delaware River Basin. A comprehensive impact study does not exist, and to allow drilling without one is simply a bad idea. More than fifteen million people, and even more species, are counting on the DRBC to protect them. The majority of Pennsylvanians will surely thank you one day for holding out a little longer to wait for science.

 [Name, Town, State]

Mail Letters to:
Ms. Carol Collier, Director
The Delaware River Basin Commission

P.O. Box 7360

West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360

More About The DRBC
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is a governing body charged “to protect existing high water quality in areas of the Delaware River Basin deemed to have exceptionally high scenic, recreational, ecological and/or water supply.” The DRBC adopted Special Protection Waters (SPW) regulations in 1992 for point source (or “end-of-pipe”) discharges and in 1994 for non-point source pollutant loadings carried by runoff to protect existing high water quality in areas of the Delaware River Basin. SOURCE: DRBC.net

“The Special Protection Waters program was first created in the early 1990s in response to a petition submitted by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and efforts by the National Park Service to have the Upper and Middle Delaware River designated as Clean Water Act Outstanding Natural Resource Waters. ‘This is our region’s version of the Outstanding Natural Resource Waters program and so strong regulations backed by strong implementation are critical, and never to be lost in the milieu of politics and money.” – Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum.  [Source: DelawareRiverkeeper.org]

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One Response to “DRBC Set to Vote on Fate of The Delaware”

  1. jan edvinsson Says:

    Don´t risk good water! You just can´t have it poluted, just can´t!

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