By Tom Johnson

June 15, 2017

If Democratic candidate for governor wins election, it could help swing Delaware River Basin Commission to follow his call on fracking

fracking rig
Credit: NPR StateImpact
Fracking rig in Greene County, PA

In an announcement with significant implications, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy yesterday called for a permanent ban on fracking within the Delaware River Basin.

Murphy’s endorsement of a permanent ban on the technology used to drill for natural gas came on a day when conservation and environmental groups once again urged the Delaware River Basin Commission to make a moratorium on fracking permanent.

Murphy’s position also is a reversal of that taken by Gov. Chris Christie during his two terms and could swing the majority of the five-member commission to support a permanent ban if the Democratic candidate wins this November’s election for governor of New Jersey.

The commission has established, in effect, a moratorium on fracking within the basin since 2010, when it prohibited permitting for natural-gas drilling to allow it to study its impact on water resources. The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to 15 million people in the region.

Calling for permanent ban

Many communities and most environmental groups have long advocated a permanent ban on fracking, the injection of huge amounts of water and much smaller quantities of chemicals into rock formations to extract natural gas and other fuels.

With the election of President Donald Trump and news that the commission is working on regulations to allow natural-gas drilling in the basin, opponents fear the moratorium could be lifted. The commission comprises representatives from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, as well a representative of the federal government.

One more vote

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned fracking in that state, citing health risks. If Murphy joins Cuomo in pushing for a permanent ban, opponents of fracking would need only one of the three remaining votes to enact a prohibition against the practice.

In a letter to the commission, Murphy praised the current moratorium on fracking for protecting open space, the river’s recreational areas, and most importantly, the drinking water of millions. “It is now time for this moratorium to become a permanent ban,’’ Murphy wrote in a letter read aloud by the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel.

“Fracking should have no role in the energy future of New Jersey, and given the tremendous importance of the Delaware River to the state, that sentiment must also be applied broadly to the Delaware River Basin,’’ Murphy wrote.

The Democrat’s own gubernatorial campaign had a notable misstep during the primary when one of his opponents castigated his stock holdings, including many energy companies, some of which were involved in building natural-gas pipelines from drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale formation of Pennsylvania.

No comment

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno’s campaign did not respond to a request for a comment from the Republican candidate.

At the hearing, dozens of fracking foes were given three minutes each to detail their call for a permanent ban. Many argued this is not a political issue, but one driven by science.

Wes Gillingham, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, noted there have been hundreds of studies documenting the problems with fracking. Eighty-four percent of those found elevated health risks and 64 percent found evidence of water contamination.

“What we have here is the science,’’ Gillingham told the commissioners. “The evidence is there. It’s not political; it’s scientific. It’s time for this commission to follow the lead of Gov. Cuomo.’’

Others cautioned against moving forward with regulations governing how drilling should occur, if permits are granted. “Regulations won’t prevent the harmful impact of fracking,’’ said Robert Friedman, policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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