In Support of a Moratorium: Unprecedented Public Opposition to Fracking in the Delaware River Basin


How organized is the anti-fracking movement getting? Well, this week, activists delivered 30,000 public comments to regulators, all in opposition to the controversial natural-gas extraction process. The unprecedented display of anti-fracking resolve comes as the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) considers extending its watershed-wide drilling moratorium – not bad for an issue that was virtually absent from the national agenda only months ago.

The Associated Press is calling the unexpectedly high volume of public comments “a record” and said the feedback comes “…from residents of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware who oppose ‘fracking,’ a technique in which water, sand and toxic chemicals are injected to break up shale and release natural gas.”

As is the case in other areas of the country where locals realize that the federal government – in its regulatory recklessness – has given the fracking industry free reign, the DRBC imposed a moratorium on drilling in its part of the massive Marcellus Shale formation. The idea was to buy enough time to consider environmental issues and draft permanent regulations.

The AP story also notes that two enviro groups have sued to stop work on exploratory wells that were allowed to proceed despite the moratorium. That suit is pending. The Delaware River watershed is reported to impact the drinking water quality of some 15 million people.

We can expect to see more states and localities instituting moratoriums as opposition to fracking swells nationwide, and public officials scramble to adopt regulations to protect drinking water sources and other natural resources. We will also see battles over jurisdiction across all levels of government, from local to state to federal. Many basic jurisdictional questions remain unanswered. For example, if a state permits fracking, can a local city government institute a moratorium to protect its citizens’ drinking water?

A recent Chronicle-Express article reporting from Milo, N.Y., illustrates the lack of jurisdictional clarity:

“I think it’s important. We need more time to protect the health and safety of our citizens,” said [Milo] board member Leslie Church. James Harris, another board member, expressed some doubt that if the state Department of Environmental Conservation allows hyrdro-facking, there is little Milo could do to stop it.

One thing is certain: All this grassroots opposition is bubbling up to the federal level. So we will be watching very closely to see if our elected officials in Washington, D.C., will step up and show real leadership on the most urgent environmental threat this country has seen in decades. Stay tuned, this fight is just beginning.

The AP story, via the Wall Street Journal, is here:

The brief article from the Chronicle-Express out of New York is here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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