February 25, 2021

By Ramona du Houx

On February 25, 2021, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted unanimously in favor of new regulations that will ban fracking in the Delaware River basin permanently, protecting the water of over 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

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 federal representative, Brigadier General Thomas J. Tickner, commander and division engineer of the North Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, abstained, citing the need for more time to coordinate with the new Biden administration.

Following nearly ten years of efforts forged by environmental groups to protect the watershed, the Delaware River Basin Commission first proposed today’s fracking ban in 2017, citing the threat it would pose to a drinking water supply for millions of people.

“A decade ago, we saw the dirty energy industry was eager to exploit a region that supplies drinking water to millions of people across four states, and we took action. Grassroots activists stopped a plan to frack the Delaware, and never stopped fighting until today’s victory was assured,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.

there are potential significant adverse environmental and public health impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations

The DRBC cited reports from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation that found, “there are potential significant adverse environmental and public health impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations.” 

The Delaware River Basin is the watershed at the base of the Delaware River, the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi. It stretches from the Catskills in New York State through parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.

As well as providing over 15 million households with drinking water it’s one of the most important fisheries in the country.

Part of the Basin that will now be protected from fracking.

The Basin is a critical ecosystem that provides a habitat for countless species of flora and fauna, including native trout, American bald eagles and eels. 

The Basin has long been at risk of being used for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) – 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. 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 and at high risk. 

The draft rules also included controversial provisions that would have allowed fracking waste to be treated in the river basin, and would have created rules for fracking companies to withdraw water to support drilling activities. The commission removed those provisions and voted to start a new process to create rules on those issues.

“New York has been a leader in our efforts to protect the environment and public health with the banning of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in 2015,” said New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “This significant action by the DRBC to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin is critical to enhance and preserve a vital water resource that millions of people access and depend on every day. This resolution builds on our collective efforts to ensure the safety of our water supply and protect the environment and individuals and families for generations to come.”

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. 

“After helping to ban fracking in New York, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) appreciates the hard work of all the environmental groups that made this historic decision possible. Fracking is one of the most toxic and dangerous ways to drill almost ensuring groundwater will be contaminated. Earthquake states, like California, need to ban the process immediately. EOPA continues to work in California to make that a reality,” said Dominic Frongillo, Executive Director Elected Officials to Protect America, Former Caroline, NY Councilmember and Deputy Supervisor.

Oil and gas industry leaders, and Chamber of Commerce, opposed the move and said they were disappointed.

“There is no support to any claim that drilling results in widespread impacts to drinking water, rivers or groundwater,” said Gene Barr, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “This was a political decision uninformed by science.”

Even the U.S. Environmental protection agency, under the Trump administration concluded that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.”

Numerous environmental groups and community members hope the decision to permanently ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin will weaken support for a liquified natural gas export terminal in southern New Jersey.

The DRBC is an interstate-federal government agency created in 1961 by concurrent compact legislation, marking the first time that the federal government and a group of states joined as equal partners in a river basin planning, development, and regulatory agency. The five Commission members are the governors of the basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government.