Given what’s known and not known about natural gas extraction from shale, drilling for gas near the Delaware River is a bad idea.  But the Delaware River Basin Commission has proposed new regulations that would permit drilling. What it should be doing instead is imposing a moratorium on drilling until pending studies are concluded and more is known about the impacts of this practice.
Natural gas extracted from shale is playing an increasingly large role in meeting our nation’s energy demand.  Some analysts expect shale gas to supply nearly half of the natural gas used in North America by 2020. The Marcellus Shale, an enormous sedimentary rock formation which includes the Pennsylvania and New York sides of the Delaware River, as well as a small corner of northwestern New Jersey, is a hot target for drilling.  As many as 10,000 additional wells are possible in the river basin alone.
Drilling in the river basin is on hold until the Commission adopts the new rules, since the lower Delaware is classified as “special protection” waters. The public comment period ends on April 15, so now is the time to speak up. The potential impacts to this federally-designated Wild and Scenic river, which provides water to 15 million people, could be irreversible!
Methane gas has been extracted from naturally-occurring fractures in shale for years, but the process of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) has recently caused a boom in shale gas production.
Fracking injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down wells (often bored horizontally for greatest effect) to shatter the shale and extract the natural gas.  Approximately 90 percent of all new natural gas wells use fracking.
Environmental problems are mounting as fast as new wells are drilled.  Methane has contaminated neighboring drinking water wells.  Check out videos of residents near existing drill sites in the Delaware River Basin setting their tap water on fire at .
A recent New York Times article revealed the scope of an even wider problem:  wastewater from fracking is so contaminated it’s difficult to fully clean.  Water with unsafe levels of radiation and chemical toxins – up to thousands of times greater than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards – is routinely discharged into rivers, streams and lakes near water treatment facilities.
 Last December, the state of New York established a moratorium on fracking, pending an EPA study of environmental impacts. That report is due in 2012.
A bill introduced in the New Jersey legislature – A3313/S2576 – would ban on fracking in New Jersey. These actions by the EPA, New York and New Jersey all make sense and deserve our support.
What should astonish and outrage us all is that fracking is exempt from federal clean water regulations.  Without the specter of federal regulation – and with licensing revenue flowing in – it’s no surprise that some states have largely ignored the mounting environmental concerns.
With so many questions unanswered about such a potentially devastating practice, the only responsible action is a moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River Basin.
Please submit comments on the Delaware River Basin Commission rules. Find out more about the issue from the Delaware Riverkeeper at or 215-369-1188. The text of the Commission’s draft rules can be found at .   Comments may be submitted through April 15 through the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) system at:  or by mail to: Commission Secretary DRBC, 25 State Police Drive, PO Box 7360, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360.
If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJCF) website at  or contact me at .