The Delaware River Basin Commission is preparing for another major fracking-related vote, following its outright ban of the natural gas extraction process last year.
The public comment period for proposed rules regarding the movement of water and wastewater ends on Monday, Feb. 28, just over a year after the commission voted to ban fracking in the watershed.
That fracking ban and the upcoming decision apply to the full watershed, a 13,539-square-mile area surrounding the river in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
The proposed rules would allow water from the basin to be exported for use in fracking outside the watershed, under certain conditions. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the usage of millions of gallons of water to break apart underground shale so that natural gas can be extracted.
The rules would also ban the discharge of fracking wastewater within the watershed, but would not entirely ban wastewater from being brought into the region, to the disappointment of environmental advocates concerned about spills and accidents.
The rules would not “regulate the transport or storage of wastewater originating outside of or within the Basin,” the DRBC said in its FAQ on the proposed rules. “These activities are regulated by other administrative agencies of our member states and the United States.”
From 2021: Delaware River Basin Commission votes to ban fracking in the watershed
The DRBC has held five public hearings on the matter, most recently on Feb. 3, when more than a dozen speakers called on the commission to take a stronger position against fracking. None of the speakers were in favor of fracking.
Allowing water from the basin to be used elsewhere “deprives the streams, tributaries and main stem of the river of critical flows and quality,” said David Pringle, speaking for Empower NJ, a coalition working to reduce fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions. The practice also allows fracking to occur where sufficient water might not otherwise be available, he added.
With these rules, “the DRBC is not only threatening the region’s food and farm economy, it is in fact furthering and supporting the fracking industry by meeting its needs so that it can continue to expand outside of the watershed,” said Hilary Baum, a Philadelphia resident involved in environmental and food advocacy.
“How can it be acceptable elsewhere when you have determined that it is not acceptable here?” she asked.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents natural gas interests, blasted the DRBC’s previous action on fracking, and said that a high rate of water recycling reduces the need for additional withdrawals.
“The Commission has trampled on constitutionally protected private property rights and ignored sound science and our industry’s leadership in water recycling and reuse technology. Pioneered in Pennsylvania, 93 percent of water used by the industry is recycled, dramatically reducing the need for freshwater withdrawals. While the commissioners advance priorities of environmental extremists, a decade of evidence from the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin indicates that safe, responsible natural gas development has no detrimental effect on water quality or quantity,” Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Callahan said in a statement.
A date for the vote on water and wastewater regulations has not been set yet. The rulemaking process began a year ago, with a resolution approved at the same meeting as the vote to ban fracking.
That vote took place more than three years after the proposed rules were released. The official ban followed a de facto moratorium on fracking, since the DRBC voted in 2010 to put off considering well pad dockets until regulations were adopted, and no fracking applications had been submitted since then.
Kathryne Rubright is a reporter covering the environment, northeast Pa. politics, and local news. She is based at the Pocono Record. Reach her at [email protected].