A coalition of environmental groups yesterday stepped up efforts to ban oil and gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed, the source of drinking water for 16 million people in four states.
Hoping to avert the lifting of a moratorium on fracking, the technology used to drill for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin, the organizations began delivering to four governors and the Army Corp of Engineers petitions signed by 63,674 people calling for a permanent ban on the drilling.
The ultimate decision will be made by the five-member Delaware River Basin Commission, which initiated the ban in 2010, but is considering regulations that could allow drilling for natural gas. No regulations, however, have been proposed yet by the four-state agency.
With a new pro-business administration in Washington, D.C., environmentalists fear that its members and the Army Corps of Engineers representative could sway the four state representatives to lift the moratorium and allow drilling.
“With these petitions we are delivering more proof to the DRBC voting members that people are clamoring for a permanent ban on gas drilling and fracking in the Delaware River Watershed and they won’t be stopped until the four governors and the Army Corps vote for a ban to providing the essential protections our drinking water requires,’’ said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
Huge new natural-gas supplies in Pennsylvania and surrounding states have driven down the price of the fuel, lowering both heating and electric bills for consumers in New Jersey. Many communities and local groups oppose fracking, the injection of huge amounts of water and much smaller quantities of chemicals into rock formations to extract the gas. They fear contamination of drinking water.
At this point, the politics of where the issue plays out in the DRBC remain uncertain, according to David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action.
“It has become abundantly clear that no amount of regulation can make fracking safe,’’ Pringle said. “So we will continue to participate, to protest, and to petition until there is a permanent ban on fracking in the Delaware.’’
Others cited what they said were President Donald Trump’s roll back of environmental protections around the country.
“The DRBC is the one place where three Democratic governors can band together and go on the offensive against Trump and the oil and gas industry,’’ said Lena Smith, regional organizer for Food & Water Watch, alluding to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Delaware’s John Carney, and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who already has issued a ban in his state.
New Jersey voted in favor of halting drilling within the basin until its impact on water supplies could be determined, but Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed a number of fracking bills here. Democrat gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has come out for a permanent ban.