November 21: The End of Clean Water for Swarthmore?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Perhaps you have seen the signs around water fountains and sinks on campus: “H2O Expires: 11/21/11.” We, Swarthmore Frack Action, are writing to explain the meaning of these signs and why the future of the Delaware River – our source of water – is in imminent danger.

On November 21, in Trenton, New Jersey, the Delaware River Basin Commission will vote to approve or deny the proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing, a method used for natural gas extraction, in the Delaware River Valley. This regulatory agency is composed of the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as a federal representative appointed by the President of the United States. Approving these regulations would end the moratorium on “fracking” in the Delaware River Valley that has been in effect for the last three and a half years. These new regulations would allow for up to 20,000 gas wells to be drilled in this region. In many accounts across the country, this risky process of injecting highly pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into shale formations beneath the ground has led to contamination of the water table by carcinogenic fracking chemicals, migration of methane and heavy metals into drinking water supplies, and the consequent, devastating health effects on homeowners who unknowingly ingest these chemicals on a daily basis. What natural gas has been most lauded for – for being a “clean, safe, American” source of energy – is an outright lie.

In 2010, 2,843 gas wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. 2,375 wells have been drilled so far this year. At this rate, approximately 5,693 gas wells will have been drilled in 2010 and 2011 alone.  If the Delaware River Basin is opened up to fracking, we can expect to see a similar number of wells being drilled over a short time frame.

The latest draft regulations – which were released November 8, 2011 without any public input – contain alarming provisions for hydrofracking in the Delaware River Basin. Listed below are a few of the proposed provisions and what we see as the possible consequences of such risky regulations.

  1. The regulations suggest that potentially contaminated sources of “re-use” water could be used to frack natural gas wells. Possible types of “re-use” water include: mine drainage liquid, natural gas flow-back wastewater, non-contact power plant cooling water, and treated sewage or industrial effluent. Water quality standards – which, if implemented, would outline a method for detoxifying these fluids before use – would not be instituted under the proposed regulations. This would further increase the likelihood of dangerous, toxic chemicals migrating into drinking water supplies.
  2. The new regulations would allow for the continued use of large, centralized wastewater pits that hold toxic flow-back and gas drilling wastewater over long periods of time. In 2010 in Tioga County, north-central Pennsylvania, several cows of farmer Terry Greenwood drank improperly enclosed gas-drilling wastewater. This year, the quarantined cows gave birth to 11 calves: eight of them were born stillborn or died soon after birth. We can only imagine what similar incidents may occur with the increased prevalence of these open, toxic pits.
  3. These new regulations would allow fracking companies to self-monitor surface water for contamination. Currently, drillers in Pennsylvania are violating the terms of their hydraulic fracturing permits at a rate of 10.5 violations per day. We fear that this provision would give natural gas companies even greater uninterrupted authority to violate environmental permits as they please in the Delaware River Basin.

Despite the obvious need to conduct a cumulative impact analysis or a comprehensive environmental study before drilling any new gas wells, the Delaware River Basin Committee is taking steps to approve the regulations and open the Delaware River Basin to fracking on November 21. This November meeting was originally scheduled for December, but is now occurring just days before Thanksgiving. Why is the DRBC so eager to make a decision? Why did they reschedule the meeting to a date when many colleges are on Thanksgiving break? While the opposition to fracking in this region has been widely vocalized, these duplicitous maneuverings on the part of the DRBC have led us to believe that the proposed regulations will be approved on November 21 – unless we show up in mass numbers. This is where you come in.

We have secured SEPTA tickets from the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility to transport students to Trenton, New Jersey for nonviolent direct action training the night before the meeting.  A local church is providing overnight accommodations. If you are unable to commit your Sunday afternoon to this event, vans will be leaving Swat at 6:15 a.m. on Monday, November 21, the day of the DRBC meeting.  Students will arrive in Trenton in time for the 8 am protest outside of the DRBC meeting-place. At this time, there will also be a second nonviolent direct action training for those who are interested.  The actual DRBC meeting will begin at 10 a.m. and will last until noon. A van will leave Trenton at noon for students who must be back on campus around 1 p.m. We encourage you to speak to your professors about the importance of this event, but in the case that you cannot miss an afternoon class, we will do our best to accommodate your transportation needs in order to get you back to campus on time.

We must set a precedent for hydrofracking at the November 21 Delaware River Basin Commission meeting. Drinking water for over 15 million Americans is at stake, and we will not accept the approval of irresponsible regulations that directly contradict our efforts toward safe, just, and renewable energy. We need to show up to the November 21 meeting en masse. Will you join us?

Email to sign up for transportation or to receive more information. Please indicate in the email when you would like to leave from Swat and if you have any afternoon time constraints. Swat Frack Action will also be tabling in Sharples over the next few days. 




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