Two conservation groups have joined forces in filing a lawsuit against the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC).
In December, when Newfield Appalachia PA, LLC and Hess Corporation voluntarily agreed to submit their grandfathered exploratory gas wells in Wayne County to review by the DRBC, the commission assumed that would be the end of the matter. Therefore, the DRBC cancelled the scheduled hearing regarding the wells.
But the groups still want to make their point that the grandfathered vertical wells present a danger to the Upper Delaware River, and the millions of people who depend on it for water, and they want a court to order that the “already drilled wells were wrongly allowed, should be removed, and the sites cleaned up and restored to natural conditions.”
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) and The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Trenton, NJ on February 1 against the DRBC, challenging the various actions that commission took that allowed the wells to be drilled without DRBC approval, and in spite of a ban that was in place in the entire Delaware River Basin. The groups have compiled a great deal of expert testimony that they hope to use in their case.
“When the commission terminated the hearing process, it forced us to go to court to uphold the protection that the DRBC Compact provides for the critical water resources for New York City, Philadelphia and all the other communities and water supply systems that depend on the Delaware River for water,” said Barbara Arrindell, director of DCS. She said, “The proper process would be to look first, before allowing any wells, at the cumulative impacts that would be produced by this type of industrial development. It certainly is wrong to allow these gas wells without any review whatsoever. The DRBC does not exist to facilitate the aims of the drillers.”
Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said, “The drilling of a gas well, whether exploratory or production, has serious environmental impacts. Since the DRBC is supposed to protect the river and the clean drinking water for over 15 million people, they shouldn’t have allowed these wells to proceed without DRBC oversight. These wells threaten pollution and may have already caused pollution.”
The commission does not agree that it acted incorrectly. Clarke Rupert, the DRBC spokesman, told reporters that Carol Collier, executive director of the four-state commission and the commissioners themselves believe that the actions regarding the wells were consistent with the compact, and the commission will defend them.
Marian Schweighofer, executive director of the Northern Wayne Property Owner’s Association, said her group is mystified by the lawsuit. She said, “There may be disagreement over whether natural gas development will protect and enhance our area, but it would seem apparent that a lawsuit filed over test wells already drilled and completed, and which do not produce gas is not likely to advance either the natural or human values we all care about.”
Congressmen Maurice Hinchey and Rush Holt are urging the DRBC to suspend the current natural gas development rulemaking process following the release of new information from House investigators about the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluid.
A investigation conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee found that drilling companies injected 32.2 million gallons of fracking fluids with diesel fuel into the ground in 19 states between 2005 and 2009. According to Congresswoman Diana DeGette, in so doing, the companies ignored federal regulations regarding diesel fuel.
“We already know there are significant risks when millions of gallons of water mixed with a small percentage of toxic fracking liquid are injected into the ground in the hydraulic fracking process,” Hinchey said. “New evidence now suggests that in some cases, frack wells are substantially more dangerous because they are using diesel fuel, which contains chemicals known to cause cancer, brain damage, kidney damage and more.”