Environmentalists call for full fracking ban in the Delaware River watershed

  • Joe Hernandez/WHYY

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The Delaware River at Washington Crossing, Pa. is shown in this file photo. Fracking for natural gas is essentially banned in the river basin under a regulation from the Delaware River Basin Commission. But the commission may allow the storage, treatment, and disposal of fracking waste and the removal of water for fracking in other places.

A coalition of environmental groups is calling on the multistate agency that oversees the Delaware River watershed to ban fracking and related activities in the area.

The activists hope it would codify a de facto moratorium that has been in place for nearly a decade that prohibits fracking, the treatment and disposal of fracking waste, and the transfer of water for fracking operations elsewhere.

“The public has spoken over and over again that we do not want fracking within the Delaware River watershed,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The groups rallied Wednesday outside a meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency that oversees the watershed.

Although the DRBC has a de facto ban on fracking in place, the commission is considering new rules that would ban fracking, but also authorize the storage, treatment, and disposal of fracking waste and the removal of water for fracking in other places.

“There should not be any further delay to end the suspense, to clearly say that fracking and its activities deserve no place in the Delaware River watershed,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “That’s why the DRBC needs to act, and they need to act now.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is commonly known, is a way for energy companies to extract natural gas from the ground. It has long been criticized for its negative environmental impacts, but industry insiders say it is a reliable way to obtain fuel people across the country rely on.

“[Fracking] has dramatically improved our energy picture and changed the energy dynamic for the better by producing clean-burning natural gas that we can use to heat our homes in a way that comes to us with lower prices and much more secure delivery,” said Jim Denton, director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council.

The environmentalists believe a full fracking ban could be coming to the Delaware River Watershed soon.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who is chair of the DRBC, has called for a comprehensive ban on fracking and related activities in the watershed and suggested the current rule proposal be expanded to include it. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Delaware Gov. John Carney also support the move, according to a story last month in The Intelligencer.

Those three votes — which comprise a majority of the commissioners that also includes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Major General Jeffrey L. Milhorn of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — would be enough to approve an outright ban.

Yet, it is unclear if or when the DRBC will put the idea up for a vote.

“Consideration of the proposed rulemaking regarding high-volume hydraulic fracturing was never on today’s meeting agenda,” said Kate Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the DRBC.

“The Commission is taking time to review and consider all of the comments received, determine whether any changes based on the comments are appropriate, and prepare a response document. There is no set schedule for a vote by the Commissioners to adopt final rules.”

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