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America's Most Endangered River: the Upper Delaware

Gas drilling cited as major threat

By SANDY LONG

NARROWSBURG, NY — It’s not the first time the Upper Delaware River has made the list, but this time the mighty waterway has taken top billing as the nation’s most endangered river due to the prospects of natural gas extraction in PA and NY. For 25 years, the leading national organization American Rivers, which “protects and restores America’s rivers for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature,” has produced its annual America’s Most Endangered River (MER) report.

On June 2, the news was announced at a special event overlooking the Delaware River. Speaking on behalf of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, the local activist group that nominated the river, Marcia Nehemiah said, “Every year since 1986, American Rivers has chosen 10 rivers which face major threats to human and natural communities, threats that would damage rivers and exacerbate climate change.”

Nehemiah quoted from the American Rivers press release, which stated, “The Upper Delaware River, the drinking water source for 17 million people across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is at risk from shale fracking for natural gas, a process that poisons groundwater and creates toxic pollution.”

“The threats facing this year’s rivers are more pressing than ever, from gas drilling that could pollute the drinking water of millions of people, to the construction of costly and unnecessary new dams, to outdated flood management that threatens public safety,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Unless we stop the threat of rampant shale fracking, the drinking water for 17 million people across the Northeast will be threatened by toxic pollution. We can’t let natural gas companies fatten their profits by putting our precious clean water at risk.”

Nehemiah added, “We call for rescinding the gas drilling companies’ exemptions to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Right-to-Know Act and the Super-Fund Act. The propaganda and lobbying machine of the gas industry touts its product as ‘the bridge to the future.’ Water is the bridge to the future... Hydraulic fracturing in the Upper Delaware watershed poses a catastrophic risk to our source of pure drinking water.”

Congressman Maurice Hinchey also spoke at the event, as well as National Park Service superintendent Sean McGuinness, Ramsay Adams of Catskill Mountainkeeper, Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Dan Plummer of Friends of the Upper Delaware and “Gasland” filmmaker Josh Fox.

“The Delaware River is one of America’s most beautiful and historic rivers,” said Hinchey. “As big energy companies prepare to start drilling for natural gas without federal regulation and without a requirement to disclose the chemicals they will inject into the ground, it has also been deemed America’s Most Endangered River. The need to pass the FRAC Act I introduced in Congress, as well as for the Delaware River Basin Commission to conduct a cumulative impact study on fracking in the region, could not be more urgent. We’ve seen what happens when energy companies are granted unfettered access to our precious natural resources without proper oversight. In the wake of one of the largest environmental disasters in our nation’s history, as millions of gallons of oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico, the need for action to protect the Delaware River could not be more clear.”

American Rivers will also hold a special event with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Washington, DC on June 4 regarding the state of the nation’s rivers to affirm the MER designation.

“I am proud to lead a great group of National Park Service professionals who protect and preserve the Upper Delaware River so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren can enjoy this special river valley forever,” said McGuinness. “I am personally committed, along with the park service, to working with everyone to do what is right for the river and corridor.”

Describing the announcement as a “watershed moment,” Nehemiah concluded, “The designation of the Upper Delaware as the MER is not only significant for those of us who live in this beautiful place, and I include all the birds, animals, insects, fish—all the interconnected web of life that makes this a glorious place. This place and this designation also mark a kind of turning point for our country and perhaps even for humanity. We have a choice at this moment: do we allow forces of selfishness, greed and short-sightedness to devastate our home for the last remaining drops of fossil fuel, to plunder the very source of all life, or do we act to protect the source of life for future generations?”

“The endangered rivers report proves that when citizens take action, we can achieve great victories for our rivers and clean water,” said Wodder.

About “America’s Most Endangered Rivers”

American Rivers reviews nominations for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report from concerned citizens across the country. Rivers are selected based upon a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year on the proposed action, the significance of the threat to human and natural communities and the degree to which the proposed action would exacerbate or alleviate stresses caused by climate change. The report is a call to action and emphasizes solutions for the rivers and their communities. It also features success stories from the past two decades. Visit www.AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers to review the report online. Details of the Upper Delaware River designation include the following:

THE THREAT: The Upper Delaware River and its watershed are located over a geological formation known as the Marcellus Shale. To access the natural gas in the shale, multinational energy corporations have acquired drilling rights to large tracts of land in the watershed and requested permits to take clean water from the river to mix with chemicals (some toxic, undisclosed and proprietary), to make hydraulic fracturing fluid for injection into wells to release the gas. Each well requires between three and nine million gallons of water for fracturing. Thousands of truck trips per well are required to transport this water, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Extracting gas from shale may result in surface and groundwater pollution, air pollution, soil contamination, habitat fragmentation and erosion. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that “produced wastewater” from gas drilling must be handled as toxic industrial waste.

THE ACTION: American Rivers has called on the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban shale fracking in the Upper Delaware watershed until a thorough study of cumulative impacts is completed and the pollution potential of shale fracking is fully documented and assessed. American Rivers also urged Congress to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 and to resist special interest pressures to include federal subsidies of shale fracking for natural gas in upcoming energy legislation.

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