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Enviro groups raise concerns over Delaware River Basin’s potential role in fracking operations

Environmentalists rejoiced earlier this year when the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)—comprised of the governors of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware and the Army Corp of Engineers—banned fracking in the watershed. However, one outcome of that meeting was the decision to punt on consideration of importing wastewater from and export water to fracking operations.

Now, after the DRBC released draft regulations on fracking operations recently, environmental groups are concerned about the potential impact on water quality in the basin.

A coalition of environmental groups and concerned community members pointed out this week that while the proposed regulations do ban the discharge of fracking wastewater (which is chock full of harmful chemicals), they do not ban the storage, processing or disposal of it. The groups claim that without a ban on the importation of fracking wastewater, there could be loopholes that lead to Delaware River Basin waterways being used as a recycling ground, storage facility (with massive tanks) or burning area for the waste.

The comment period on these regulations will take place over the next few months, with hearings scheduled for December. 

​​”On its face it seems that the DRBC is looking to take a stance against the discharge of toxic frack wastewater within the basin, but at the same time create loopholes that may allow the import and use of the waste in ways that put our river, watershed and communities at risk,” says Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, one of the advocacy groups in the coalition. “DRBC is also leaving the door open for water exports, particularly in the form of wastewater, that could be used as the source of water for fracking operations that will sacrifice other communities and watersheds to this devastating industry.”

The issue many in the coalition take is the convoluted nature of the proposed rules; indeed, a more elegant and comprehensive solution, they claim, is a complete ban on wastewater imports and water exports for fracking operations.

​​”Releasing complex and nuanced rules for the import of frack waste and the export of Delaware Basin water for fracking is not as good as the simple moratorium we have now,” said Eric Benson, Clean Water Action, NJ Campaigns Director. “We need to simply close the door to all frack activities in the Basin. We remain concerned that these rules have potential loopholes that polluters can exploit.”

The proposed rules suggest a ban on imports of wastewater from high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations, but open the door for other importations of wastewater. Reads the draft regulations: “Although importations of wastewater are ‘discouraged,’ they may be permitted after careful consideration to ensure that available alternatives have been evaluated, treatment is employed to ensure applicable water quality criteria are achieved, restoration efforts are not impeded and uses incorporated in the Commission’s Comprehensive Plan are protected.”

The draft regulations also clarify the DRBC’s intent to “discourage” water exportations for fracking operations, without banning them. Exportations reduce water flow in the river, of course, and infrastructure built and resources used to export the water could impact the ecology of the area. But exportations also serve as a de-facto commitment from the region to continue the fossil fuel economy, even as the impacts of climate change are starting to be felt across the country.

Perhaps most acutely pressing are the negative effects on drinking water if further oil and gas influence is allowed in the region.

Says Taylor McFarland, acting director of the Sierra Club, NJ Chapter: “In order to truly protect the drinking water for 15 million people, we need a comprehensive ban including the discharge of wastewater and taking of drinking water for fracking. Without it, we are putting our environment and public health at risk.” 

You can read the proposed rules here.