Hydrofracture gas drilling in Pennsylvania is going strong in some areas, and just getting started in others. The difference is largely about watershed politics.
Local lawmakers are trying to secure federal funding to study the impacts of upstate natural gas drilling on the Delaware River. Regulators say the water supply for more than 15 million people from New York City, Philadelphia and beyond is in the balance.
Recently, the Delaware River Basin Commission imposed a moratorium on all natural gas drilling within the watershed. Commission members said they wanted to study the impact of drilling on water quality. But in central Pennsylvania, within the Susquehanna River watershed, the gas industry is drilling thousands of new wells.
Susan Oblesky, spokesperson for the Susquehanna Basin Commission, says that’s because her group only regulates water quantity, not quality.
“There was actually a lot of noncompliance early on and some of it was because the industry was new and the process was new in the watershed,” she says. “And they didn’t know there was an agency that regulated that use in the watershed.”
Oblesky says the Commission decided years ago not to regulate water quality, so as not to duplicate efforts by state environmental regulators.
Environmentalists worry about a process that uses toxic chemicals to help extract the gas. Industry officials say drilling can be done without polluting drinking water supplies.