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Delaware River Basin Commission Votes to Ban Fracking in Historic Victory

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Delaware River Basin Commission Votes to Ban Fracking in Historic Victory
A bridge over the Delaware river connects New Hope, Pennsylvania with Lambertville, New Jersey. Richard T. Nowitz / Getty Images

In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.


The vote affirms a 2010 moratorium by the DRBC, an agency that manages the water. Pressured by environmental groups, commissioners used their authority to safeguard public and environmental health and limit future pollution, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Today's decision is a historic watershed moment and one that will significantly contribute to a clean energy future," Patrick Grenter, associate director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement. "Fracking threatens the health of our people, water, climate, and communities and we're relieved to see it outlawed in the Delaware River Basin."

Fracking for natural gas involves blasting high volumes of pressurized water and chemicals into rock formations. This has led to contaminated water wells, while wastewater spills have transmitted radioactive materials into surface and groundwater, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported. These pollutants and chemicals are linked to cancers and other health issues in humans and wildlife, NRDC reported.

If fracking were to be allowed in the Delaware River Basin, these same impacts could affect the 17 million people that rely on the basin for drinking water, putting 45,000 people who live within a mile of the planned fracking well locations at high risk for those health problems, the NRDC added. The basin is also a critical habitat for one of the most important fisheries in the country, home to diverse species such as native trout, American eels and bald eagles.

The debate on fracking in the region began over a decade ago. During Pennsylvania's natural gas boom, commissioners expressed concern over the high quantity of basin water required to support it, StateImpact Pennsylvania found.

In response, the DRBC imposed a fracking moratorium in 2010, but never finalized drilling regulations, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Supporters of basin drilling argued that the commission did not have the authority to regulate drilling, StateImpact Pennsylvania noted.

Despite yesterday's vote, the ban still faces opposition.

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr said that the votes by New York, New Jersey and Delaware did not have Pennsylvania's "best interests in mind," StateImpact Pennsylvania reported.

"There is no support to any claim that drilling results in widespread impacts to drinking water, rivers or groundwater," Barr told AP. "This was a political decision uninformed by science."

Last month, State Sens. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming) and Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne) and the Pennsylvania Republican Caucus said the moratorium, now a ban, "amounts to an illegal taking of property from Pennsylvania owners of mineral rights and from taxing authorities," The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

While Thursday's fracking ban could be seen as a promising sign for reducing fossil fuel reliance, the Biden team will face challenges addressing the climate crisis without also slashing jobs in an industry that accounts for a significant amount of U.S. employment.

For the time being, environmental groups are celebrating a rare climate victory.

"Banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin is an historic event," the NRDC added, crediting years of hard-fought advocacy by environmental groups and activists alike. "It marks a commitment to protecting human and environmental health — not just for those who depend on the Delaware River, but for an entire planet threatened by climate change."

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