High Volume Fracking Banned In Delaware River Basin Due To Health Risks

A commission that oversees the safety and purity of water in the Delaware River basin has banned high volume hydraulic fracturing activities along the river, citing growing concerns over pollution and health risks from “fracking” operations that extract oil and gas.

On February 25, the Delaware River Basin Commission, based in New Jersey, announced the approval of a final rule prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), according to a press release issued late last month. The prohibition has been added to the commission’s Comprehensive Plan and Water Code.

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking” involves drilling and fracturing shale rock to release oil and gas. The operations involve the injection of water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressures to crack the surrounding rock, thus releasing the natural gas underground and allowing it to flow to the head of the well.

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Problems from fracking have previously been linked to negative environmental effects to the surrounding communities, due the impact on drinking water, as well as increased dust and exhaust from drilling rigs, compressors and the transportation of the water, sand and chemicals. The process has also been linked to increased earthquake activity, and the extent of potential harm to humans living close to these operations has remained an open question.

The prohibition, Resolution No. 2021-01, gives several reasons for putting the high volume fracking ban in place. It predicts that the practice could lead to spills and releases of fracking chemicals, fluids and wastewater, which would adversely impact surface and ground water. This may eventually impair drinking water sources, and pose widespread health concerns. In addition, the Resolution warns the fluids released by fracking contain pollutants such as salts, metals, radioactive materials, organic compounds, endocrine disruptors and toxic chemicals whose toxicity has yet to be determined.

“High-volume hydraulic fracturing and related activities pose significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the water resources of the Delaware River Basin and to the Special Protection Waters of the Basin, considered by the Commission to have exceptionally high scenic, recreational, ecological, and/or water supply values,” the Resolution states. “Controlling future pollution by prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is required to effectuate the Commission’s Comprehensive Plan, avoid injury to the waters of the Basin as contemplated by the Comprehensive Plan and protect the public health and preserve the waters of the Basin for uses in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan.”

The Delaware River flows from the New York Catskill Mountains, 419 miles into Delaware Bay, emptying into the Atlantic in Cape Henlopen, Delaware and near Cape May, New Jersey, going through a significant portion of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, and Maryland along the way.

In testimony filed with the commission on February 25, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental protection group, called for a ban on all fracking procedures in the Basin, noting that the river provided drinking water to 17 million people. The NRDC testimony (PDF) says the new rules do not go far enough.

“While the draft regulations are an important step in the right direction, they could still open the watershed to the storage, treatment, and disposal of contaminated fracking wastewater – a toxic mix of water, sand, and as many as 1,000 chemicals. And they could also allow companies to draw freshwater from the watershed for use in fracking elsewhere,” the NRDC testimony states. “This will not fully protect public health and the environment. It is critical that the Commission also advance regulations that permanently ban fracking and protect the watershed and surrounding communities from all fracking-related activities.”

Fracking Health Concerns

Fracking has become an increasing concern to environmentalists, lawmakers, and local communities, as dozens of plaintiffs file lawsuits against the drilling companies for contaminating their local wells and exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered their property values.

A number of fracking lawsuits have been filed in the United States, with one of the most recent verdicts issued in March 2017 by a federal jury in Pennsylvania that awarded two families in excess of $4.2 million in damages over fracking tainting their drinking water. The two families were the last of more than 40 families in the Dimock, Pennsylvania area to resolve lawsuits over fracking problems.

Fracking operations also face an increasing number of lawsuits over earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states. Recent research has linked fracking wells to an unprecedented increase in powerful earthquakes across the South and Midwest. U.S. government geologists now say that Oklahoma suffers more earthquakes than California, due entirely to fracking and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells.

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