Three groups have filed a lawsuit against the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the issue of hydraulic fracturing. The groups are the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) the Delaware RiverKeeper Network and the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic.
The groups’charge, made frequently in the past, is that the DRBC and the Army Corps of Engineers should not allow drilling in the Delaware River Basin until its impacts are better understood. An August 4 press release said, “The impacts to water quality and quantity, air quality, recreation and the wildlife within and near treasured lands like the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and Delaware Water Gap could be severe, and should be analyzed in an environmental impact study before drilling moves.”
“When it comes to natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed, the public has not had equal voice in the debate with the politicians and the drillers,” said Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum. “The DRBC and the Army Corps have both rejected their obligation to protect the river and the common good by issuing draft gas rules without the required comprehensive environmental studies. They have allowed politics and their annual budget to drive the drilling debate within their agencies.”
A number of environmental organizations have argued that as a federal agency DRBC is required under the National Environmental Protection Act to conduct an environmental impact study. The argument from the DRBC has been that it is not a federal agency.
According to various sources, the agency has also argued that while a study might be needed, there is no money to conduct one. But some critics, such as Barbara Arrindell, one of the founders of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), said the DRBC could require the industry to pay for the study, and they have not yet considered that as an option.
DCS has separately filed a lawsuit against DRBC and the Army Corps, but their suit also names the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and numerous other agencies that make up the federal component of the DRBC.
Arrindell said the Army Corps sits at the table, but other agencies also have a role to play in the decision-making process. Some of the other agencies, such as NPS and FWS, have written letters saying that an environmental impact study should be completed before regulations are completed.
Arrindell said the DSC lawsuit calls not only for an environmental impact study, but also a study of the effects of fracking on human health, which, according to the group, has so far been largely ignored in the ongoing debate about gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
In a related development, an attorney for the government plans to ask a U.S. district judge to dismiss a similar suit against the Army Corps of Engineers and the DRBC filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on May 31.
According to Legal Newsline (www.legalnewsline.com), U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch is arguing that Schneiderman does not have standing to bring the suit, and also that he filed the suit prematurely because the DRBC rulemaking process has not yet been completed.
PRESS RELEASE FROM DAMASCUS CITIZENS FOR SUSTAINABILITY
August 9, 2011
Advocacy group seeks a full environmental impact review for Delaware River Basin Commission prior to adopting any gas development regulations.
Seeking to protect the Delaware River Basin and the health of the millions of people who live, work and play in the Basin, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability files lawsuit today against DRBC and federal government for failure to perform NEPA review emphasizing the critical need for a human health impact assessment before any gas development is allowed.
Alarmed by the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) proposal that it may permit an estimated 18,000 horizontal gas wells in the Delaware River watershed, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) filed a lawsuit today against the DRBC itself and the federal representatives on the DRBC over the failure of DRBC and all other federal agencies with responsibilities in the watershed to prepare and consider a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) before adopting regulations that will allow gas wells to be drilled throughout most of the watershed.
The lawsuit claims that it is against federal law for the DRBC and the agencies involved – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- to refuse to prepare an EIS.
DCS contends that the DRBC, which is in charge of protecting the water resources of the Delaware River Basin for current and future generations, did not conduct a full review as mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of potential environmental impacts of shale gas development using high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin.
Several times in public hearings before the DRBC since it began consideration of shale gas development, DCS attorney Jeff Zimmerman has warned the Commissioners that the DRBC is violating NEPA in proposing gas development regulations without considering and making available to the public an environmental impact statement (EIS) examining the full range of potential impacts of gas development, slated to include the industry’s estimate of 18,000 horizontal gas wells and associated infrastructure, in the special protection waters portion of the watershed.
In addition, DCS asserts that a Human Health Impact Assessment is a mandated component of a full NEPA EIS. “A comprehensive Health Impact Assessment is essential to understanding the full magnitude of impacts that will result to the people from decimating the ecosystem of the Delaware River Basin and converting it into an industrial zone,” said Barbara Arrindell,
Director of DCS. Ms. Arrindell continued, “No less an authority than Dinah Bear, who for 25 years served as general counsel of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) charged with overseeing implementation of NEPA, has written that the inclusion of a robust, systematic approach to public health is supported by NEPA and regulations issued by the CEQ. Further, by Executive Order, NEPA has also been utilized to assess any disproportionately high and adverse human health effects on children, minority and low-income populations.”
“What we have in the Upper Basin is healthy, unique, and unspoiled,” said Joe Levine of DCS. “The consequences of shale gas development to the health and well being of the people who live here will be devastating and a public health disaster.”
Since impacts on human health have been reported with increasing frequency in gas drilling states, DCS contends it is incumbent on the DRBC and the federal agencies to assess the health impacts of drilling on air quality, water quality and quantity, noise and light pollution, chemical exposures and psychological stressors.
This is especially critical since neither Pennsylvania nor New York has undertaken health impact assessments of their own. The DRBC oversees the 13,539-square-mile area of the Delaware River Basin that supplies drinking water to approximately 15 million people, including residents of Philadelphia and NewYork City.
When the DRBC’s proposed regulations are adopted, intense drilling will be allowed to proceed, risking surface water and groundwater contamination at each stage of the extraction, processing and distribution of the shale gas. Just to the west, in the Susquehanna River Basin, the number of contaminated water wells in the vicinity of gas drilling sites has been increasing despite recently issued guidelines by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environment Protection intended to prevent such contamination.
Formed four years ago, DCS is a leading advocacy organization in the anti-fracking movement that provided significant guidance and support to filmmaker Josh Fox for his award-winning documentary, Gasland. DCS has challenged a number of decisions made by the DRBC that have put at risk irreplaceable water resources.
According to DCS’ attorney Zimmerman, "You can’t do the EIS after you’ve already made a decision. DRBC must stop the process, wait for the EIS to be completed, and then review the project again with everyone having access to the EIS and its comprehensive evaluation of all cumulative impacts, including risks to human health and safety.”