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The Delaware River Basin Commission's fracking ban is a win for clean water | Opinion

The Record, Bergen County logo The Record, Bergen County 3/2/2021 Jeff Tittel, Special to the USA TODAY Network
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The Delaware River has been threatened with fracking for years, similar to what is happening to western Pennsylvania. Now we have had a major victory in the battle to protect clean water. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted to ban fracking in the basin. This historic vote will protect the drinking water for over 15 million people and hundreds of acres of forest. It will also help reduce greenhouse gases and mean there won’t be pipelines built to take the gas to market. More importantly, the commission is also working towards a full ban including the discharge of wastewater and taking of drinking water for fracking. 

Fracking is a danger to clean water, public health and the environment in the Delaware River basin. In 2008, companies started coming into the region looking to drill for natural gas. The process involves injecting huge amounts of water and chemicals in rock formations that can pollute surrounding aquifers and waterways. There were 10,000 pending applications, which is why this ban is important. Without it, we could have seen up to 50,000 fracking wells that would have destroyed up to 850,000 acres of forest and billions of gallons of water. The average well uses 2.5 to 4.5 million gallons of water, and many are fracked two to three times.

Once applications started coming in, we started organizing and fighting back. In 2010, the DRBC was going to vote to approve weak rules that would have allowed fracking in the Basin. Thousands of people submitted comments and hundreds of people came to the meeting in protest. This led them to table the rules. They passed a moratorium with one vote until stronger rules were developed. When they proposed the rule amendment to permanently ban fracking in 2017, there were people who said that we should just accept it instead of pushing for a full ban. But we knew that a partial ban wouldn’t work, so we kept working to get a full ban. Now the DRBC has committed to move forward with a full ban that includes the taking of water or dumping of fracking waste.

a bridge over a body of water: The Delaware River Basin Commission voted Thursday to ban fracking in the Delaware River. © FILE PHOTO The Delaware River Basin Commission voted Thursday to ban fracking in the Delaware River.

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Earlier: Delaware River Basin Commission votes to ban fracking in the watershed

The process of hydraulic fracking involves injecting huge amounts of water and chemicals in rock formations to extract natural gas. This requires mixing millions of gallons of water with toxic chemicals including volatile organic chemicals like benzene, methylbenzene, formaldehyde, and others that are linked to cancer. The process also releases toxic chemicals like arsenic and mercury that are naturally trapped in the shale. If allowed in the Basin, it would impact the drinking water for over 15 million people. Without this ban, residents in the Basin would have been faced with well pads, compressor stations, and drilling rigs. 

Banning fracking is also important to deal with climate impacts. Methane released from fracking operations is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Allowing fracking also promotes more pipelines, power plants, and fracking waste facilities that would emit pollution. This ban is critical because fracking gas undermines our clean energy goals and would have resulted in millions of tons more pollution.

It is critical that the DRBC listened to the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent in comments and signed petitions asking for a full ban. Gov. Phil Murphy came out four years ago for a full ban, and he has reiterated that. In 2018, Gov. John Carney of Delaware, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Murphy signed a letter calling for a full fracking ban. Without a full ban, we could still see wells poisoned or people lighting their faucets on fire. A complete ban will also mean that companies like DuPont or Elcon will be prohibited for exporting water and have to go somewhere else.

Moving forward with a full ban is critical. The Delaware River is an environmental treasure on the east coast that supplies clean drinking water for millions of people. The River includes acres of forests, open space, and waterways that provide habitat for hundreds of wildlife species. It even received the designation for wild and scenic and is classified as Special Protection Waters. We look forward to working with the DRBC to do additional rules to ban dumping fracking waste and water withdrawals for fracking. A full ban will help protect public health, the environment, and our tourism and fishing industries.

graphical user interface, website: The Delaware River Basin Commission voted Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, to ban fracking in the watershed. Patrick McDonnell (center), secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, voted for the ban on Gov. Tom Wolf's behalf, along with alternates for the governors of New York, Delaware and New Jersey. © [POCONO RECORD SCREENSHOT] The Delaware River Basin Commission voted Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, to ban fracking in the watershed. Patrick McDonnell (center), secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, voted for the ban on Gov. Tom Wolf's behalf, along with alternates for the governors of New York, Delaware and New Jersey.

We have been fighting to ban fracking in the basin for almost 15 years, and it finally happened. Just as important, the DRBC is taking the critical next step to move forward with a full ban. We have to come out and help them as they work to get it done. There will be public hearings and comment periods, and we need to make sure that we help them do the right thing. We want to thank the governors, including Murphy, for voting to ban fracking and for moving forward with a full ban. This is one of the most important wins we’ve had in a long time to protect the Delaware River for future generations.

Jeff Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: The Delaware River Basin Commission's fracking ban is a win for clean water | Opinion

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