With a crucial decision expected this fall, environmentalists yesterday stepped up pressure to prevent the dumping of waste from natural-gas drilling operations within the Delaware River watershed.
In a press conference on the State House steps in Trenton, opponents urged Gov. Phil Murphy to block a proposed new rule by the Delaware River Basin Commission that would allow wastewater from fracking operations to be discharged within the region.
The commission is poised later this year to ban fracking, the process of injecting massive amounts of water, sand, and smaller amounts of unknown chemicals into shale formations to extract gas, within the basin.
Most environmental groups support the ban, but, at the same time, fear disposal of wastewater from those operations could wind up fouling drinking water for the 15 million plus people in four states — New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware — that depend on the river’s water. The fracking wells are all in Pennsylvania.
“We’re asking the Governor to step up and ban it all,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
Ever since the natural-gas drilling took off about a decade ago, critics of fracking have sought to determine what chemicals are injected into the shale to extract the gas. Companies do not disclose those chemicals because of trade-secret protections.
A new report by the Partnership for Policy Integrity shed some light on the frequency of the use of those chemicals without disclosing what they are.
Between 2013 and 2017, drilling companies injected secret chemicals into 2,515 wells across the United States 13,632 times, according to the report. The data was obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Exposing people to unknown health risks is unconscionable,’’ said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for PFPI and the author of the report. “The widespread use of secret chemicals — many of them potentially dangerous — is powerful evidence for the need to prohibit fracking and related activities in the Delaware River Basin,’’ he said.
‘He has to lead… and not waffle’
Murphy backs the fracking ban within the basin and this past February, shortly after his inauguration, vowed to oppose the dumping of fracking waste within the basin also. Murphy is now chair of the DRBC, and opponents want him to exercise leadership in convincing the other three governors to back the dumping ban.
“He has to lead on this issue, and not waffle,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We should not be wasting our river with these toxic chemicals.’’
The commission proposed the two new rules to ban fracking within the basin while allowing disposal, treatment and storage of fracking waste in the fall of 2017. A de facto moratorium on fracking has been in effect within the basin since 2010.
The price of natural gas has dropped dramatically since fracking began in Pennsylvania and other states about a decade ago, lowering heating costs for consumers while boosting manufacturing. The plentiful supplies and cheap price of the fuel have led to a rapid expansion of natural-gas infrastructure in the region, including power plants and pipelines.
In the past, the New Jersey Legislature sought to ban disposal of fracking waste within the state, but the legislation was vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie. No natural-gas drilling operations occur in New Jersey.