Fracking is now permanently banned in the Delaware River watershed. And the regional regulatory body that approved the ban will next propose regulations on the import and export of wastewater.
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on Thursday approved a final rule prohibiting fracking, or high volume hydraulic fracturing. The ban is to control future pollution, protect public health and preserve the water of the Basin in accordance with the Commission’s comprehensive plans. Peter Eschbach is DRBC spokesman.
“The ban is immediate,” says Eschbach. “It encompasses the entire 13,500 square-mile Delaware River Basin, although the practical impact is up in the northeastern section of Pennsylvania where it sits on top of the Marcellus Shale, which is gas-bearing.”
Wes Gillingham is associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. He says environmentalists have been advocating for a permanent ban for more than a decade.
“The Catskills, upper Delaware, the whole Delaware Basin is a place that deserves to be treated much better than letting fracking come in here,” Gillingham says. “So, it’s a, it’s a day of hoorah for all of us.”
Kimberly Ong is senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“I think the really great signal that this vote gives to the rest of the country is that fracking is not safe for communities or for the environment and for the climate,” Ong says.
Governors from New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania are DRBC commissioners. New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos represented Governor Andrew Cuomo during the virtual meeting in which the ban was approved. Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Gillingham:
“The Catskills are the headwaters of the Delaware River. The Delaware River is one of the most pristine ecosystems on the East Coast. And even though it’s not in our state, it’s on the other side of the river, but we have the same concerns; fracking should not happen anywhere. And this is just one more place where we can prevent it,” Gillingham says. “This is a huge area now. There’s a ban on fracking in Vermont, New York and the Delaware Basin. That’s the largest area across the country that there’s a fracking ban in.”
The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to about 13 million people. About half of New York City uses the basin for its drinking water. Again, the DRBC’s Eschbach.
“We’ve been working on this since 2017, had an extensive public comment period, then it went through 2018, six public hearings, hundreds of thousands of comments that all had to be gone through, and resulted in the rules that then were presented to the commissioners yesterday, on which they voted,” Eschbach says. “The four basin state governors voted in the affirmative. The Corp of Engineers, the federal representative, abstained simply because he has to coordinate with the new Biden Administration, There just hasn’t been time to do that.”
In 2017, rules put out for public comment included regulation about the importation of fracking wastewater for treatment and for exportation of water to be used in fracking operations. Eschbach says the commissioners felt those proposed rules were not stringent enough.
“And, as a result, that’s why they only voted on, in the new rules yesterday, a ban on fracking, and then directed in a second resolution, they directed the executive director to then come up with more specific rules around this exportation of water and importation of wastewater with regard to, frankly other, other situations in which importation or exportation may occur,” says Eschbach.
To date, no wastewater treatment facility in New York has been approved to accept high volume, hydraulic fracturing wastewater. And there are no limitations on how exported water from the state is used. New York banned fracking in 2015.
The NRDC’s Ong says with the DRBC fracking ban in place, efforts now turn to banning fracking wastewater imports and water exports for fracking.
“In order to protect the water quality of the Delaware River Basin, the Commission should ban transport and treatment of fracking wastewater. There’s still no safe treatment of fracking wastewater available anywhere,” says Ong. “And the Delaware River Basin is experience historic low levels of water in the Basin and so to export this water for purposes of fracking elsewhere is not only bad for water quality in the Basin, but also sends a signal that fracking is somehow safer in other areas, which is simply not true.”
DRBC staff has until September 30 to come up with and publish proposed rules on wastewater for public comment.