With the Drinking Water of 15 Million Americans at Stake, Feds Side with Frackers


Just in case there’s anybody out there who still thinks our federal government has a shred of integrity following the debt-ceiling debacle, news from the fracking front will quickly disabuse any remaining die-hards of that notion. Rather than exercising their power to stop the oil and gas industry from continuing its feast at the fracking trough, the feds have entered the fray on the side of their industrial “partner” – at the expense of citizens and the environment.

According to an Aug. 2 Bloomberg report, the U.S. government plans to seek dismissal of a New York lawsuit that would require a comprehensive environmental review of the impact of fracking on the drinking water in New York State.

As you’ve probably heard by now, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is the highly dubious process in which massive amounts of fluid – water, sand and a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals – are injected into the ground under high pressure to extract natural gas from shale at a faster rate than conventional drilling methods. The toxic chemicals, including carcinogenic benzene, as well as natural occurring radioactive material, like radium, can make their way into rivers, aquifers and drinking-water wells.

From Bloomberg:

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued on May 31, saying a commission that oversees the Delaware River Basin has proposed regulations that will allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells without a full environmental review.

The suit looks to put the brakes on regulations until the Delaware River Basin Commission, which oversees commercial activities in the natural gas-rich region known as Marcellus Shale, complies with the National Environmental Protection Act’s requirement for a full examination of the danger posed to the millions of people who rely on the basin’s water.

The number of people potentially affected is staggering, as indicated by statistics from the Basin Commission’s official website:

Over 15 million people (approximately five percent of the nation’s population) rely on the waters of the Delaware River Basin for drinking, agricultural, and industrial use, but the watershed drains only four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S. land area. The 15 million figure includes about seven million people in New York City and northern New Jersey who live outside the basin. New York City gets roughly half its water from three large reservoirs located on tributaries to the Delaware. The Delaware Bay is only a gas tank away for about 23 percent of the people living in the U.S.

The potential for contamination should be taken very seriously and should be thoroughly studied before any fracking takes places. That’s just common sense. But apparently our federal government disagrees.

According to Bloomberg:

The U.S. plans to ask U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn, New York, to dismiss the case on the grounds that the state can’t prove injury and doesn’t have the right to sue federal agencies, according to a letter filed with the court yesterday.

Bloomberg reports that the Delaware River Basin Commission has a “pending application with XTO Energy Inc., a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), to explore in the area, and has refused to produce a full environmental impact assessment, according to Schneiderman’s complaint.”

Apparently, the environmental review needed to examine the risks of drilling is superseded by a 50-year-old agreement between the U.S. government, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. It is beyond ridiculous that this agreement, which is completely out of sync with the times, trumps federal law and common sense in protecting the water supply of 15 million Americans. And this despite the fact that we already know fracking presents a very real threat to our environment.

More from the Bloomberg report:

More than 2,000 natural gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania, resulting in “hundreds of violations of water pollution laws,” Schneiderman said in the complaint, citing an April 19 blowout of a natural-gas well owned by Chesapeake Energy Corp.

And consider this from Natural Gas Watch, a nonprofit enviro group that tracks fracking operations across the country:

Methane concentrations grew so strong following an April 19 blow-out at a natural gas well operated by Chesapeake Energy in northeastern Pennsylvania that the company cleared the area of crew members and equipment in case the facility exploded, according to documents detailing the incident obtained by NaturalGasWatch.org.

There are scads of similar reports that support the call for a full environmental impact review in the Delaware River Basin. With such obvious dangers on the rise in states from New York to Colorado, I suggest the feds stick to national issues like reducing the debt and leave it to local officials, like New York’s attorney general, to protect our states from the onslaught of fracking.

Here’s the full Bloomberg report: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-02/u-s-seeks-to-dismiss-new-york-state-lawsuit-over-natural-gas-drilling.html

Read what the Delaware River Basin Commission has to say here: http://www.state.nj.us/drbc/thedrb.htm

Read the Natural Gas Watch.org report on the Chesapeake Energy blowout here: http://www.naturalgaswatch.org/?p=704

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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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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