Regulators Ban Fracking Permanently in the Four-State Delaware River Watershed

The Delaware River near New Hope, Pennsylvania.

The Delaware River near New Hope, Pennsylvania. James Loesch / Wikimedia Commons

The regulatory agency in charge of managing the Delaware River and its tributaries voted last week to permanently ban natural gas drilling and fracking within the entire four-state watershed, which supplies the drinking water for more than 13 million people in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.

The interstate Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) cited the scientific evidence that fracking has polluted drinking water, surface water, and groundwater.

The vote prohibits gas drilling in parts of the Marcellus Shale that overlap the Delaware watershed, specifically in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York State, NPR reported.

“Fracking poses significant risks to the water resources of the Delaware River Basin, and prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is vital to preserving our region’s recreational and natural resources and ecology,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement. “More than 13 million people rely on the waters of a clean Delaware River Basin that is free of the chemicals used in fracking. Our actions, including the further rulemaking outlined today to address fracking wastewater, will protect public health and preserve our water resources for future generations.”

The decision comes after a 10-year debate over fracking in the region. The DRBC, which is made up of the governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, first raised concerns about potential water contamination at the start of Pennsylvania’s shale gas boom in 2010. The commission wrote draft regulations limiting fracking in the watershed in 2011, but then-Delaware Governor Jack Markell rejected them, leaving the agency in a years-long stalemate, according to NPR. New York independently banned fracking within its borders in 2014. The commission released even stricter proposed rules in 2017 to ban all fracking in shale formations in the basin. The vote last week makes the ban permanent.

Environmentalists praised the decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission. The Sierra Club called it a “historic watershed moment and one that will significantly contribute to a clean energy future.”

But the ban is already facing federal lawsuits by pro-drilling landowners and Republican lawmakers who are challenging the agency’s authority to regulate fracking. And fossil fuel interests have pointed to how the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which includes New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, has found no link between fracking in the Marcellus and water quality degradation.

“It is quite clear the region and nation rely heavily on Pennsylvania’s resources to keep the lights on, and we must oppose any efforts to restrict the production and transmission of our natural resources,” Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, told Associated Press.