Fracking along the Delaware River
Anyone who has ever fished or canoed the Delaware River can easily understand that it is a priceless recreational resource that is as pure and clean as any river in the United States. It is a renowned trout fishery in its upper reaches and each spring the river sees thousands of shad migrate from the sea to Hancock and beyond. The river, where it cuts through the Catskill and Pocono mountains, is mostly shallow and offers boaters basically the same views as seen by Native Americans centuries ago. In the river’s northern section that forms the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania, there are no cities that dump sewage or chemicals into its pristine water and no noisy jet skies or motorboats to violate the quietness and feeling of solitude the river offers. When an area such as this is threatened then people must act.
I was first made aware as to how this area could be lost forever back in the mid-1970s when the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to construct a dam at Tocks Island just above the Deleware Water Gap. The proposed dam was to be 3,200 feet wide and 160 feet high. To construct it, 72,000 acres of land were condemned and taken by eminent domain. The finished dam, with a maximum depth of 140 feet, would have backed up the river for 37 miles upstream to Port Jervis. Thankfully, embittered local residents aided by environmental protestors, fought hard to stop the dam’s construction and succeeded. Today, the land that was acquired is now part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area.
That crisis was averted, but today a new threat is hovering and it’s not exactly in the shadows. It’s no secret some drilling companies and landowners want high-volume hydraulic fracking to be allowed in the Delaware River basin which drains almost 14,000 square miles of New York and Pennsylvania. The Delaware River Basin Commission met last February to discuss the issue of high-volume fracking and natural gas extraction in the basin. The Commission, with an eye to future generations and, to protect a valuable water supply for thousands of people, voted 4-0 not to allow drilling and fracking to occur anywhere in the watershed.
According to the Commission, high-volume fracking would have a devastating impact on the quality and quantity of surface as well as groundwater resources due to the enormous quantity of water required to fracture the gas containing shale located below. Fracking companies also add an unknown stew of chemicals to the water to facilitate the process and this is of grave concern for overall water quality as well.
New York currently bans fracking and the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware fully support banning gas exploration and extraction with this process. Understandably, some landowners in the watershed are questioning the authority of the DRBC to prevent them from profiting from the gas beneath their properties but a compact established in 1961 establishes that authority.
It’s understandable why some landowners want to profit from the gas below their land but at what cost? One need only look south to Pennsylvania to see what a devastating impact large gas wells can have on the environment. The residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania, a small village about 35 miles south of the New York border suffered contamination of its water supply when drilling and fracking for gas began in that area. Today, residents face an ongoing struggle with the state and the gas industry to rectify this damage, and many residents still cannot drink their water.
In June of 2020, a Pennsylvania grand jury cited Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation for long-term indifference to the damage it caused to the environment and citizens of the county. The energy company now faces felony charges for polluting residential water wells in the small community. The charges include illegal discharge of industrial wastes and unlawful conduct under Pennsylvania’s clean stream act.
Right now the move by the DRBC to prohibit fracking in the watershed is most prudent. The gas will someday be gone but, if fracking is ever allowed, the environmental impact and devastation created by its extraction may never be.