By OWEN WALSH DELAWARE RIVER — More than a decade after the struggle began, environmental activists scored a major win in the Delaware River Basin last Thursday: Hydraulic fracturing, fracking, …
DELAWARE RIVER — More than a decade after the struggle began, environmental activists scored a major win in the Delaware River Basin last Thursday: Hydraulic fracturing, fracking, has been ofﬁcially banned.
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a regulatory body comprising four states and a federal representative that oversees the protection of the river and its resources, held a special meeting via Zoom and promptly voted the resolution through.
The vote was unanimous among the representatives of the states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware). The commission’s federal representative abstained “due to additional time needed to coordinate with the new [Biden] administration” while respecting the outcome of the vote.
The resolution cites “scientiﬁc and technical literature... conclusions of other government agencies” and “more than a decade of experi-ence with high volume hydraulic fracturing in regions outside the Delaware River Basin” in deciding that allowing fracking activities would “pose signiﬁcant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management and preservation of the water resources” of the river.
Back in 2010, with requests for natural gas development projects pending, the state and federal commissioners ﬁrst directed the DRBC staff to draft regulations for well pad drilling. In the years following, the commission published its draft regulations and received tens of thousands of comments from the public. By March 2017, still lacking a ﬁrm decision on fracking, the commission held six public hearings on proposed rule changes, hearing oral arguments from 223 people and receiving nearly 9,000 written submissions. Since the public comment period on the proposed rules ended in 2018, the commissioners did not hear any public comment at its special meeting last week. However, more than 400 people were reportedly watching the Zoom session and more were streaming the meeting through YouTube.
The commission’s decision on this issue was bound to be controversial, no matter what they chose. The advocates for and against fracking seem equally passionate about the topic. Maya van Rossum, chief executive ofﬁcer of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network—one of the most vocally anti-fracking environmental groups in the region—described the full ban as a win for the “people” versus the natural gas industry.
“This is a tremendous testament to the power of the people. Everybody told us from day one, when the frackers tried to cut their way into our watershed, that we couldn’t stop them,” van Rossum said. “But the people stood up... for full protection; we didn’t settle for the crumbs that the industry and the politicians in their pocket wanted to throw at us.”
Numerous other organizations have greeted the decision with lauds and celebration, includ-ing the Sierra Club, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, to name a few. But the ban has been met with the scorn of some residents in the basin, speciﬁ cally in Wayne County, the shale-rich battleground where much of the ﬁght over fracking has been waged. Just next door in Susquehanna County, the Susquehanna River Basin’s (SRBC) decision to allow fracking has made that watershed one of the top natural gas producers in the world, according to state Rep. Jonathan Fritz.
Seeing their neighbors make money from leasing their land to drillers has left some Wayne County landowners feeling cheated out of their mineral rights.
Tom Shepstone, one such Damascus Township resident who writes for a pro-fracking website called Natural Gas Now, called the ban a “fatal misstep” and has promised that the fight for fracking is far from over.
“Well, after a decade of pretending they weren’t stealing the gas rights of Upper Delaware landowners, the commissioners of the DRBC, said the quiet part out loud today [with] a vote to restrict fracking, a formal DRBC ban,” Shepstone wrote. “This dec-laration of theft has cleared the way for [a] $1-2 billion takings lawsuit that will make landowners rich and destroy the agency.”
Several Pennsylvania Republicans, outspoken advocates of natural gas development, have also released statements condemning the new ban.
Looking at the DRBC’s resolution, the commission cited several factors that led it to ultimately ban fracking:
In addition to the fracking ban, the DRBC also unanimously voted to develop rules and regulations, no later than Thursday, September 30, on the transfer of water and wastewater to and from the river basin. Van Rossum and other activists are hoping this will eventually result in a full ban on exporting water from the Delaware for fracking activities elsewhere, and the importing of wastewater into the basin from fracking projects elsewhere.
“It has been proven in other watersheds that [wastewater from fracking projects] is very dangerous and damaging to waterways and ecological health... and we have worked very hard to protect the quantity of water that stays here, to make sure that we are sustainable in how water is being used and what water is being used for,” she said. “In addition, we do want not our watershed to be used to help sacrifice other communities and other rivers to the fracking industry... we want protection for our watershed and our communities, and we want protections for other watersheds and other communities: We don’t want fracking anywhere.”