Delaware River Basin Commission votes to ban fracking wastewater discharges

This Tuesday Dec. 25, 2018 file photo shows the Delaware River at Washington Crossing, Pa. On Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, the Delaware River Basin Commission voted to permanently ban natural gas drilling and fracking in the watershed. (Jacqueline Larma / AP)

This Tuesday Dec. 25, 2018 file photo shows the Delaware River at Washington Crossing, Pa. On Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, the Delaware River Basin Commission voted to permanently ban natural gas drilling and fracking in the watershed. (Jacqueline Larma / AP)

The Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency that oversees drinking water quality for the watershed, voted to prohibit the discharge of wastewater from fracking operations into the region’s waterways or land.

The Commissioners voted 4-0 on the measure, with the federal government abstaining. The commission is made up of representatives from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware along with a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The DRBC said its decision will control future pollution, protect public health, and preserve the waters of the Basin — while strengthening policies around the exportation and importation of water, including wastewater, into and from the Basin.

“The DRBC Commissioners have taken a bold step to protect our Basin’s exceptional water resources,” said executive director Steve Tambini in a statement.

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He added that the adoption of these rules confirm “the significant and vital role our shared water resources play in the lives of more than 13 million people.”

The Delaware River, which runs from upstate New York and empties into the Delaware Bay, provides drinking water to about 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

About one-third of the Delaware River Basin lies above natural gas deposits. Since 2009, all natural gas production activity must go through a DRBC review process. That’s because of concerns about the water withdrawals needed for drilling, as well as the impact on water quality from the drilling practice known as “hydraulic fracturing.”

In February, 2021 the Commission banned fracking within the watershed. The vote prohibits gas drilling in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York state, where Marcellus Shale gas deposits are limited to about one-third of the basin.

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Wednesday’s ruling doesn’t address the transportation and storage of wastewater, because that’s regulated by other agencies, according to the agency

Environmentalists say they’re concerned about potential accidental spills during transportation.

They’re also concerned about potential discharges into the air, and believe wastewater could still be reused in industrial processes, releasing contaminants into the environment.

“The ramification could be spills, could be air emissions, could be other pathways that the toxic contamination that’s in that wastewater actually ends up getting into our watershed,” said Maya Van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

She and other advocates are calling for what they call a “complete ban” on fracking wastewater.

“After all these years and promises from the Governors, we still do not have a complete ban on fracking in place,” said Jeff Tittel of the Frack Ban Coalition. “DRBC do your job, put in place a complete ban.”

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