Comments on Draft Regulations Addressing Importation / Exportation of Water, Wastewater in the Basin
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
The Steering Committee of the Concerned Health Professionals of Pennsylvania (CHP PA), an advocacy group concerned about the environmental health impact of fracking and the Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania (PSR PA), which promotes socially and environmentally responsible practices, policies and programs to safeguard and improve public health has applauded the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) for voting to prohibit fracking on the Delaware River. The vote, which was affirmed by Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and abstained by the United States, considered the risk of a spill or contamination from fracking produced water and determined that the potential harm to so many was not worth the supposed economic benefit to the multistate region.
The DRBC decision coincided with three important publications to consider in the DRBC's upcoming decision regarding a ban on the importation of wastewater produced by fracking into the Delaware River basin as well as the export of Delaware River basin water for use in fracking elsewhere. The first publication is a February 2021 study done by the Ohio River Valley Institute which has shown that after ten years, areas heavily impacted by the unconventional gas development industry have actually seen a loss of jobs and property value; the second publication is the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) which has over 2,000 citations of the public health harms from fracking - much of the published harms have come from studies done in Pennsylvania which has nearly 13,000 gas wells and has been the second largest gas producer in the United States; the third publication is by Michele Adams in 2014, "Unsafe & Unsustainable: Experts Review the Center for Sustainable Shale Development's Performance Standards for Shale Gas Development."
Regarding the DRBC's decision to ban fracking in the Delaware River basin, Dr. Walter Tsou, former Health Commissioner of the City of Philadelphia's Department of Public Health; Past President of the PSR PA Board of Directors; and Steering Committee Member of CHP-PA, said, "Fracking is an inherently dangerous process, with no economic, long term benefit and any spill would have been a public health disaster." Likewise, CHP-PA Steering Committee member, and current President of the Board of Directors of PSR PA, Dr. Ned Ketyer commended DRBC, "for standing up for the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to 'clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values' of the Commonwealth. Protecting our air and water from the damage caused by toxic fracking emissions and radioactive waste is essential for protecting public health."
Today, both PSR PA and CHP PA urge the DRBC to ban the importation of wastewater produced by fracking as well as the export of water for use in fracking elsewhere with a focus on the potential danger of stormwater runoff contaminated with fracking waste - a pathway of pollution that will be opened wide if the DRBC allows frack wastewater to be imported here for storage, processing, or reuse in other activities. The transfer of pollutants contained in wastewater produced by fracking to the environment can occur through indirect discharges that do not necessarily trigger the requirement for a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The DRBC must take responsibility to prevent stormwater runoff by banning all pathways for stormwater runoff, which can carry into surface water pollutants that are deposited by air on land and/or vegetation and by spills and leaks onto land. As stated in a report examining the development and operating practices of oil and gas operators, a stormwater expert states:
"Contamination of a surface water source may occur due to activity at a wellhead, but may also occur due to activity related to fluid storage and transportation that is not in proximity to a wellhead. Surface source waters can also be adversely affected by other industry related activities, such as stormwater and erosion and sediment issues related to construction".[i]
"Comprehensive long-term water quality monitoring of surface waters, including both chemical and biological monitoring at locations downstream of all gas development activities, is required to assure that water quality is maintained."[ii]
Stormwater runoff can transfer pollution from fracking wastewater from a closed loop system, a storage site, or other handling facility that was supposed to be a no-discharge project. This cannot be tolerated and therefore must be prevented by a ban. The DRBC decision to ban fracking within the watershed was the correct decision. As DRBC Commissioners, you must be consistent with your decision and complete the protection of the Delaware River Basin and the ecosystem which relies on it and make the decision to ban the pollution produced by fracking by prohibiting its toxic and radioactive wastewater from entering the watershed where it can be used, reused, processed, stored, or disposed of.
The DRBC should ban all activities that have the potential effect of discharging fracking wastewater in the Basin, including:
No fracking wastewater treatment facilities
No storage of fracking wastewater
No underground injection of fracking wastewater
No road spreading of fracking wastewater
No other uses of fracking wastewater such as for irrigation, fire suppression, vehicle and equipment washing, etc.
No placement of fracking wastes in landfills
[i] "Unsafe & Unsustainable: Experts Review the Center for Sustainable Shale Development's Performance Standards for Shale Gas Development", Michele Adams, P.E., Prepared for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, 2014, p.14.
Concerned Health Professionals of Pennsylvania
Barbara W. Brandom, MD
Laura Dagley, BSN, RN
Marsha Haley, MD
Edward C. Ketyer, MD, FAAP
Robert G. Little, MD
Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH
Peggy Slota, DNP, RN, FAAN
Walter Tsou, MD, MPH
Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania
Tonyehn Verkitus, Executive Director
Tammy Murphy, Medical Advocacy Director