Plan to Allow 20,000 Fracking Wells in Delaware River Basin Threatens Drinking Water for 15.6 Million

The threatened Delaware River. Photo: librarylvr via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The safety of 15.6 million people's drinking water hangs in the balance, and most of them don't even know it. But if you're one of them -- if you live in any of the cities or regions that depend on the Delaware River Basin for their water supply -- then you might want to start paying attention. Nowish.

Next Monday, the Delaware River Basin Commission will vote on whether or not to open the region up for fracking. The decision has massive implications for the area's residents, the natural environment, and anyone who's keen on drinking safe, nontoxic water. That's because by the industry's own admission, a ruling in favor of fracking would beget the creation of an estimated 20,000 new frack wells along the basin. The vote would also approve regulations that allow wells to be drilled a mere 300 feet from the river -- greatly increasing the likelihood of contamination.

Last night, I spoke to Josh Fox, the director of Academy Award-nominated Gasland. He recently produced this short film, Save the Delaware, and created an accompanying website to act as a hub for anti-fracking action related to the ruling.

SAVE THE DELAWARE from JFOX on Vimeo.

Fox told me what a vote in favor of fracking would mean.

"20,000 gas wells or more is what they're admitting to," he says. "That would be the permanent industrialization of the upper Delaware. The Wild and Scenic-designated river, the source of tourism for 5.4 million people a year. The drinking water source of nearly 16 million people."

In other words, a beautiful, beloved provider of crucial ecosystem services would be imperiled. And that prospect has people deeply pissed off.

"They received 69,800 public comments overwhelmingly against drilling in the basin," Fox says. "And just to put that in perspective, the New York state environmental review only garnered 14,000 public comments for the whole of New York state. They took two years to digest that stuff. Somehow, the River Basin Commission absorbed those in seven months. And then, the regulations are worse .They're weaker. So your setbacks in the last set of regulations were 500 feet from the river. Now it's 300 feet from the river. You can drill 300 feet from the river. Which means effectively you can drill under the river. And they will."

He elaborates in this brief video interview I took last night:

The Delaware River Basin Comission has five members -- the governors of Basin states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, and a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers -- and a majority vote is required to pass the measure. The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania are in favor. New York's is against. The remaining two votes hang in the balance.

A major protest is planned outside the hearing, which will take place on November 1st in Trenton, New Jersey. Find more information on the event at Save the Delaware.

Fracking has quickly become one of the most-loathed practices in the entire fossil fuels industry; quite a feat for a sector that's brimming with loathsome practices. Yet awareness about fracking -- and backlash against it -- is only growing. Which is why Monday's ruling is an important one, since we'll see how willing government regulators are to let the gas industry endanger public safety and the national water supply. And if the measure is approved, we might just see how millions of people who depend on the Delware for safe drinking water feel about the gas industry exploiting their river for profit.

Stay tuned for my full interview with Josh Fox, and more on the current state of fracking.

Tags: Activism | Fracking

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