The People Speak: No to Fracking in the Delaware River Basin

This is a guest blog written by Xaver Kandler, a summer intern with NRDC’s New York Program. Xaver is a rising senior at Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley.

On a crisp and clear June morning, over one hundred people from all walks of life converged on the Delaware River Basin Commission’s business meeting in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. Standing in front of the stage where the Delaware River Basin Commision sat, framed by blue curtains, a crimson red table cloth, and symmetrical flags, NRDC Attorney Kim Ong turned toward the audience and asked, “if you are here today to support a ban of fracking, please rise.” 

The DRBC Commissioners under a painting of Washington crossing the Delaware

Rob Friedman

The entire room rose. The atmosphere suddenly shifted as I looked around and felt the power of the people. Religious leaders, environmental groups, parents, grandparents, and young people all united by a single desire: to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin.

Personally, hearing the testimonies struck a chord close to home. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an area surrounded by some of the highest concentration of fracking in the world, I’ve seen firsthand the ruin caused by this dangerous practice. Driving through Western Pennsylvania, the destruction is ubiquitous. Huge trucks roll down quiet country roads. Acres of forest and core habitat are lost due to well pads, compressor stations and pipelines. People continue to be systematically poisoned in areas they have lived in for generations.

During the public comment hearing, 22 people testified about a number of unique but interrelated concerns. They expounded on the effects of fracking on public health; they implored the commission to consider the effects of fracking on water quality; they argued that fracking simply didn’t make economic sense for the region; and they spoke out on behalf of the future of their communities, neighbors, and children.

The timing of the hearing was crucial. Currently, there is a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. However, recent signs indicate that the Delaware River Basin Commission— composed of the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware alongside a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers— is considering ending the moratorium and issuing regulations on fracking. As the massive painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware loomed above the commissioners, community members argued that the commission has the moral duty to invoke the courage of Washington and protect their environment, community stability, and livelihoods. 

A fracking rig in Northeastern Pennsylvania

The community members’ claims regarding both their environment and livelihoods are well founded. A robust study commissioned by Steven Habicht, Lars Hanson and Paul Faeth documented the potential environmental impacts of an end to the 2011 moratorium. They estimate that if the moratorium is lifted, there will be 4,000 fracking wells in the Delaware River Basin. These wells will result in a 5-10% loss in core forest habitat, substantially increased erosion rates, high concentration of key contaminants in streams even after treating the wastewater, double the amount of the dangerous greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, and negative public health effects to the 45,000 people that will live within one mile of a drilling pad.

When considering these devastating effects, it is important to keep in mind the ecological significance of the Delaware River Basin. The ecologically diverse area has been historically conserved through the Wild and Scenic Waters Act of 1968. This ecosystem provides drinking water to over 17 million people, including the residents of New York City and Philadelphia.

Knowing that residents of the Delaware River Basin have the opportunity to safeguard their environment, livelihoods, and health inspires me. The over 17 million people that get their drinking water from the Delaware River Basin have an opportunity to follow in the courageous footsteps of New York and Maryland and move from a moratorium to an outright ban.

In the age of the Trump administration’s almost daily assault on environmental protections, a fracking ban will be an important victory for not only the Delaware River Basin, but the entire environmental movement. Our coalition, led by frontline communities alongside national environmental partners, is ripe to continue their momentum and send a defiant “No” to extractive industries.

Let’s listen to community members and the scientific consensus. The ecological, economic, and personal value of a fracking-free Delaware River Basin all add up to a clear answer. Let's follow in the courageous path of New York and Maryland and put this to bed once and for all.

Let’s ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin.

Help ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin

About the Authors

Rob Friedman

Policy Advocate, Environmental Justice & New York Programs

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