Speak out against ill-advised natural gas drilling regulations for Delaware River Basin

Last December, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) released draft regulations governing natural gas drilling in the basin.  The Delaware River watershed supplies drinking water to approximately 15 million people and gets its water from four states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.  New York City’s unfiltered drinking water supply – which supplies safe water to more than 9 million New Yorkers – is fed by the Delaware River system.

Right now, there is a moratorium on new drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the Delaware River Basin, pending the issuance of final regulations governing the activity.  Unfortunately, though, the DRBC has back-tracked on earlier indications that it would complete a comprehensive environmental review – including an assessment of cumulative impacts of drilling throughout the basin – before proceeding to issue regulations.  Instead, they skipped the environmental review phase and right to issuance of draft regulations without adequate analysis of the risks.

As a consequence, the draft regulations are insufficiently protective of the Delaware’s exceptional waters and the states that rely on them for drinking water, recreation space and wildlife habitat. The regulations’ deficiencies are many, but I’ll highlight a few of the most pressing concerns here.

  • No consideration of cumulative impacts. Like the faulty New York State draft environmental review process, the draft rules do not address the cumulative impacts of water withdrawal and gas well development, and they lack a method to control environmental degradation resulting from natural gas drilling and water depletion. We need to know how full development within the Upper Delaware and the loss of freshwater flows from the river’s headwaters will affect water quality, clean drinking water, habitats and ecological needs downstream.
  • No restriction on toxic chemicals. Under the draft regulations, there are no restrictions on the particular chemicals that drillers can use to drill and hydraulically fracture gas wells. This oversight is irresponsible, given the hundreds of dangerous chemicals – including diesel fuel and many known carcinogens – used during the fracking process, and the possibility that these chemicals will end up in our soil and water.  DRBC should limit the use of these toxic substances, and should also wait for EPA to complete its study of the effects of fracking practices.
  • Improper reliance on inadequate state regulations and regulators. In many critical areas, the rules rely on state regulations that are often weak (PA) or nonexistent (NY), and on state regulatory agencies that have insufficient resources to oversee and enforce their regulations.  If DRBC does intend to regulate drilling activity and truly safeguard this important river, it can’t cede responsibility to state authorities and allow for inconsistent and inadequate protection.
  • Excessive waivers. The draft rules give the DRBC authority to issue waivers and variances from a number of requirements, including regarding waste disposal and setbacks, which provide huge potential loopholes.
  • Open air impoundments and reserve pits for toxic wastes. Impoundments for toxic wastewaters and reserve pits for hazardous solid wastes are permitted, both of which present serious risks of land and groundwater contamination from spills, overflows, leaks, etc.

We’ll be posting our full comments on the draft regulations shortly.

Overall, given these deficiencies, and the high stakes of proceeding with inadequately regulated drilling in the basin, NRDC is calling on DRBC to rescind these misguided draft rules and postpone any regulation of fracking in the Delaware River Basin until it has completed a full environmental impact statement and allowed for adequate public review and comment.

You can add your voice by submitting comments on the draft regulations through this website, at one of three hearings being held next week, or by submitting comments by mail by March 16th (information on the hearings and for mailing in comments is available here).  (Note that the field for submitting comments on-line is limited to 35,000 characters or about 10 pages, so lengthy comments should be mailed in.)