Fracking Banned in the Delaware River Basin!

Mount Bethel, PA

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Today marks an important day for public health and environmental protection: fracking is now banned in the Delaware River Basin. 

In an historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission—the body responsible for safeguarding  the water quality of the Delaware River Basin—voted to outlaw fracking in the region. Four of the five Commissioners, including the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, voted for the ban, taking a strong stance that fracking “poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the water resources of the Delaware River Basin.” 

The Delaware River Basin is the watershed at the base of the majestic Delaware River, the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi. The Delaware stretches from the Catskills in New York State through parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, providing drinking water to 17 million people. It is one of the most important fisheries in the country, a critical habitat for countless species of flora and fauna, including native trout, American eels, and bald eagles. 

The pristine Delaware River Basin has long been at risk of being used for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Fracking is the process of extracting fossil fuels, like oil and gas, by injecting a mixture of water, salt, and thousands of toxic chemicals into the earth. It is an incredibly dangerous activity; the chemicals used are toxic pollutants that have been linked to cancer, mutations, and other adverse impacts on human health, and are destructive to aquatic life and ecosystems. If the Delaware River Basin were to be used for fracking, around 45,000 people would find themselves living within one mile of the planned fracking well pad locations, now at high risk of those health threats. 

What’s more, fracking contributes to the intensifying global climate crisis. At all stages of extraction, transmission, and combustion, fracking releases methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Concerningly, building fracking infrastructure in the Basin would signal support for the development, transmission, and use of fossil fuels, the leading driver of climate change. 

Banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin is an historic event. It marks a commitment to protecting human and environmental health—not just for those who depend on the Delaware River, but for an entire planet threatened by climate change. 

This groundbreaking decision is a product of  years of hard-fought advocacy by NRDC and other allies, including the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter, Food and Water Watch, League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability. Following nearly ten years of efforts forged by NRDC and our partner environmental groups to protect the watershed, the Delaware River Basin Commission first proposed today’s fracking ban in 2017. Since then, NRDC and our partners have waged a comprehensive campaign to support a full ban on fracking—central to our campaign has been the push for a ban on additional fracking-related activities, like the disposal of toxic fracking waste into the Basin. From publishing news articles and blogs, to circulating petitions and action alerts, we have worked to mobilize our members to attend Commission meetings, submit comments, and advocate for the ban. Additionally, our staff have spoken at Commission meetings, offered written comments, and submitted an amicus brief for consideration in a lawsuit challenging the Commission’s authority to regulate fracking in the basin. 

Our coalition, as well as NRDC’s own engaged membership base, has worked hard. After years of advocacy, that work has come to fruition in today’s critical vote. 

The decision about whether or not to permit fracking in the Delaware River Basin is one of the most important decisions the Commission has made in recent years—if not of all time. The Basin now joins New York, which recently banned fracking across the state, as a leader in the move away from fossil fuel infrastructure and toward a cleaner and greener future. 

We thank the Commission—especially New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Delaware Governor John Carney, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf—for taking historic action against fracking, and for protecting our people and our planet. But the fight is not over. While this vote enacts a full ban on fracking, it does not prohibit the transportation and disposal of fracking waste, nor does it ban the withdrawal and export of water from the watershed for fracking purposes. NRDC and our allies will continue to fight to protect this critical watershed until it is fully protected from the dangers of fracking and all of its associated activities.

About the Authors

Marisa Guerrero

Program Assistant, New York Regional and Environmental Justice, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

Kimberly Ong

Senior Attorney, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
Blog Post

NRDC and Catskill Mountainkeeper file an amicus brief to protect the Delaware Basin from fracking.

Blog Post

NRDC testified at two public hearings in favor of a full ban on fracking and fracking-related activities in the Delaware River Basin last week.

Blog Post

The New York State legislature permanently bans fracking in New York, five years after Governor Cuomo first instituted a ban through executive action.

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