Calls for Stronger Ban of Fracking Wastewater at Delaware River Basin Commission Hearings

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As a follow up to our recent December post, public hearings were held in Pennsylvania last month on the Delaware River Basin Commission’s 2017 resolution that could lead to a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River watershed — a region that includes 24 counties in portions of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Currently, there’s a moratorium in place that has halted fracking activities in the Basin since 2010. Some property owners in the affected region expressed concern at the loss of economic opportunities in the form of gas leases due to the ban, something those in neighboring counties have profited from. Gas industry representatives also participated in the hearings, touting the industry’s support of 320,000 jobs that pay $23 billion dollars in wages, and citing U.S. EPA studies that fail to show significant correlation between hydraulic fracturing and impaired water resources.

The majority of those participating in the recent public hearings, however, support the resolution, with some calling for even more stringent prohibitions on the import of fracking waste water into the region.

The proposed regulations permit the import and treatment of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing into the region, but with strict conditions including the DRBC’s approval.

Shale gas drilling produces two types of wastewater, flowback and produced water. Flowback results from water returning to the surface after the pressure is released in the wellbore after fracking. Produced water emerges from wells along with the natural gas sought after, and could be naturally occurring water in geologic formations that was encountered following fracking activities. Both effluents are highly salty, with sodium levels from Marcellus Shale flowback measured as high as 32,300 mg/L. Chemicals that were injected to facilitate drilling, such as magnesium, iron, barium, strontium, manganese, methanol, chloride, and sulfate, are also present in wastewaters. Hydrocarbons like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene are freed by the drilling process, and can also show up in flowback and produced water. Finally, naturally occurring radioactive materials have been measured in fracking wastewater at a level of 9000 picocuries per liter. The EPA allows a maximum of 5 picocuries of radium per liter of drinking water.

Critics of the DRBC’s resolution question why the new regulations would provide any conditions for the import of potentially toxic wastewater into the watershed.

With environmental groups seeking a total ban on all fracking activities, the debate will continue, and their cause may have fresh momentum. New Jersey’s newly elected Governor, Phil Murphy, a DRBC member through his position, reversed the position of his predecessor Chris Christie, and came out publicly in support of the ban.

Additional hearings will go forward this month and next, with public comment on the new rules closing on March 20, 2018 and a final decision expected in late 2018.