There are no easy answers. But I believe those of us living here in the Delaware Valley should support the current moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. Without better regulations, fracking would create significant new risks to our local waterways.
But guaranteeing local water quality safety is going to be very hard to do. Fracking generates massive amounts of wastewater - about 1.38 million gallons per Marcellus well, according to a 2013 Duke/Kent State study. That wastewater contains dangerous chemicals as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials which can be toxic to humans and aquatic life. According to the report, the 570% increase in fracking wastewater since 2004 is overwhelming Pennsylvania’s wastewater disposal infrastructure capacity. A 2011 study by Penn State Extension agrees that Pennsylvania’s capacity for treating and disposing of drilling wastewater has lagged behind the rapid development of the Marcellus shale. And a Natural Resources Defense Fund report from October warns that “current regulatory programs (for handling fracking wastewater) are not adequate to keep people and ecosystems safe.”
The agency responsible for regulating natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), has been criticized by environmentalists as underfunded and understaffed. That condition may not change anytime soon. The new head of the PA DEP, Chris Abruzzo, who was appointed in December by Governor Corbett, told his Senate confirmation committee he does not view climate change as harmful and sees no reason for Pennsylvania to adopt new policies to address it, according to a report by StateImpact Pennsylvania.
Until we have a better system – and tighter regulations - for handling the enormous volume of dangerous fracking wastewater already being created by wells outside the Delaware River Basin, we should not be drilling wells inside the DRB and put our local waterways at risk.