Concerns over how "fracking" for natural gas might impact Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River have led to a lawsuit seeking a full environmental review of the operations.
The lawsuit maintains that the Army Corps of Engineers and the Delaware River Basin Commisson failed to follow the National Environmental Policy Act in proposing gas drilling regulations. Specifically, it alleges they failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of the drilling operations. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association, Riverkeeper, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
“With 5.4 million visitors annually, the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area are national treasures that must be protected for our children and grandchildren to enjoy,” said Cinda Waldbuesser, Pennsylvania senior program manager for NPCA. “The economic benefits of natural gas development must not compromise the long-term benefits of protecting water quality and preserving our national parks, which are already economic generators for local communities.”
Covering approximately 48,000 square miles, the geological formation called the Marcellus Shale lies beneath the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Nearly 36 percent of the Delaware River Watershed is underlain by Marcellus Shale. Industrial and academic assessments estimate that trillions of cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered from the formation with tens of thousands of natural gas wells anticipated in the Delaware River Basin alone.
According to the legal documents filed, the impacts to "water quality and quantity, air quality, recreation and the wildlife within and near treasured lands like the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and Delaware Water gap could be severe, and should be analyzed in an environmental impact study before drilling moves forward."
"When it comes to natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed, the public has not had equal voice in the debate with the politicians and the drillers,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. “The DRBC and the Army Corps have both rejected their obligation to protect the river and the common good by issuing draft gas rules without the required comprehensive environmental studies. They have allowed politics and their annual budget to drive the drilling debate within their agencies.
"Today, our organizations are rising up in defense of the River and the public good — we are enforcing the law so as to ensure good science, facts and common good are the drivers from here on out.”
While scientists have long known about the resources of the Marcellus Shale formation, modern advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are granting access to the country’s shale gas reserves faster than ever before, especially in Pennsylvania.
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and toxic chemicals into a well, fracturing the shale and releasing the natural gas trapped within. Companies are not required to share information publicly about the chemicals used in this process. While all harmful impacts of natural gas development have yet to be fully understood, the groups say possibile impacts might include:
* Health concerns for local communities and the environment including water contamination related to drilling and the disposal of drilling fluid;
* Reductions in stream flow and ground water levels;
* Air quality degradation; and
* Impacts to the region's national parks including wildlife, night skies, soundscapes and cultural resources.
“The Delaware River Basin provides 50 percent of the clean, unfiltered drinking water that nine million New Yorkers depend on daily,” said Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper Watershed program director. “This critical resource should not be put at risk by allowing drilling to proceed in the Basin before a complete environmental impact assessment has been carried out as the basis for developing the most effective regulations possible. Absent that review, there is no assurance that the regulations the DRBC is poised to finalize will be adequate to control a risky industrial activity that has already caused documented environmental and human health impacts in other states, including Pennsylvania.
"No one’s drinking water should be sacrificed in the rush to pursue exploitation of methane gas deposits that have existed for millions of years,” Hudson adds.
The Delaware River is the largest free flowing river east of the Mississippi and its water quality is exceptional, which merits it special protection under DRBC regulations. The DRBC, an agency that includes the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and the Army Corps of Engineers, regulates activities within the Delaware River Basin.
The agency has proposed new regulations for natural gas development without first conducting an environmental impact analysis, and neglects to provide sufficient protections for local communities, the environment and nearby national parks, the groups maintain.