Credit: (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
File photo: A fracking site in New Milford, Pennsylvania

The Delaware River Basin Commission on Wednesday tightened water restrictions for the fracking industry in its region, but environmentalists immediately blasted it, saying it fell short of the full ban they had sought.

The Interstate Water Regulator has completed long-awaited amendments to its rules that prohibit the discharge of wastewater from fracking operations outside the basin. It also established new conditions for the possible import of basin water outside the region.

In 2021, the commission formally banned the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” widely used in much of Pennsylvania to extract natural gas. It acted on long-standing concerns that the aquifers that serve the basin’s 13 million residents could be contaminated by chemicals used by the industry. Since then, the commission has been under pressure from activists to stop any related activities, such as importing fracking wastewater.

Representatives of the four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — voted at the commission’s quarterly business meeting to approve the new rules, while a fifth commission member representing the federal government abstained.

One “bold move” for DRBC

“DRBC Commissioners have taken a bold step to protect our basin’s exceptional water resources,” said Steve Tambini, DRBC Executive Director. “The adoption of these regulations is a joint action by four states and the federal government that recognizes the important and vital role our shared water resources play in the lives of more than 13 million people.”

The new rules ban the discharge of untreated wastewater from fracking operations onto land and into water because of what the commission has identified as “significant, immediate and long-term risks” to water resources in the 12,800-square-mile river basin that stretches from the northern part of the state. New York to the mouth of Delaware Bay.

But the new rules don’t apply to water storage and transportation because those activities are regulated by state and federal agencies, and because the commission’s ban on fracking itself means those risks are low, the commission said in a statement.

“The commission has prohibited large-scale hydraulic fracturing in the basin, and it also prohibits the discharge of treated or untreated wastewater onto land or into water in the basin,” the DRBC said.

The discharge ban also covers the possibility of spills or leaks, but the commission doesn’t consider them a significant threat to the basin’s waters because of the ban on fracking itself.

However, the amendments appear to leave open the possibility that water imports and exports to and from the region may still be permitted under some circumstances.

“Although the import of wastewater is ‘not recommended’, it may be permitted after careful consideration to ensure that available alternatives have been evaluated, treatment is used to meet applicable water quality criteria, does not interfere with remediation efforts, and the use is included in the Commission’s Comprehensive Document. The plan is protected,” says a summary of the new DRBC rules.

The new rules allow the commission to approve an export if it will serve a nearby public water system or is temporarily required to meet public health or safety needs, the commission said.

Since 2010, when the de facto moratorium on fracking began, the basin has had no imports or exports of fracking water. When it was formalized in 2021, the commission proposed import and export rules that were finalized on Wednesday.

“Yawning Crevices”

The Delaware River Conservancy Network, which advocates for a total ban on fracking activities in the basin, said the commission made “important changes” to its rules with the new action, but left “significant loopholes” that could still allow toxic fracking waste in the pool. water.

“The effects of these open fissures threaten our watershed with severe and irreversible damage from the fracking industry and allow our watershed to be complicit in advancing fracking outside of our watershed,” said Maya van Rossum, leader of the environmental nonprofit Riverkeeper.

The biggest loophole in the new rules, according to Riverkeeper, is that they don’t cover the transportation, storage, treatment and reuse of fracking wastewater, which could expose the basin to waste from evaporation, incineration or other processes.

“This giant loophole, which does not ban imports, means that other recycling technologies, such as adding these wastes to cement or other products and/or using them to cool water, for example, will still be allowed,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of “Riverkeeper”.

Carluccio argued that the lengthening of wells in the fracking industry increases demand for water as well as wastewater production, leading to increased demand from industry for water and places to leave or process waste.

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