DRBC adopts new rules to prohibit fracking wastewater discharges
The commission tightened rules for Delaware River water to be exported for fracking and the importation of fracked wastewater.

| December 7, 2022

DRBC meeting on Zoom
DRBC meets (on Zoom) to adopt rules for fracking-related activities in the Delaware River watershed.

Ever since the DRBC banned fracking in the watershed in February 2021, the issue that has environmental activists alarmed is what are known as fracking-related activities: importing fracked wastewater into the basin, and exporting Delaware River water to be used for fracking.

Once the ban on fracking was approved, the DRBC turned its attention to those activities.

Here’s our story about this rule-making process that began about a year ago, which included several public hearings and led to the rules adopted on Wednesday in which the DRBC took into consideration the comments of thousands of people who were concerned that there were too many loopholes for an industry that, in their minds, cannot be trusted.

And this is what the DRBC said about its action: 

“By a vote of 4-0, with the federal government abstaining, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) today approved a final rule prohibiting the discharge of wastewater from high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) to water or land in the Delaware River Basin and clarifying the circumstances in which water, including wastewater, may be exported from or imported into the Basin.”

Read more: The DRBC considers a ban on fracking wastewater.

Here’s the resolution approved today.

Though the rules have been tightened again, there is no outright ban. There is language that implies the DRBC would not look favorably on either exportation or importation of water. There are many stipulations before it would consider approval. 

Where opponents see a tightening to the rules, the DRBC sees a ban, or almost:

“The Commission determined that controlling future pollution by prohibiting discharges of wastewater from HVHF and HVHF-related activities to waters or land within the Basin is required to effectuate the Comprehensive Plan, avoid injury to the waters of the Basin as contemplated by the Comprehensive Plan, and protect the public health and preserve the waters of the Basin for uses in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan.” 

People opposed to the wording used and that more definitive wording wasn’t used say it leaves a loophole for air-dispersal of fracked wastewater. That’s an example of the fine level of detail that goes into the creation of these rules and the way that the environmental community examines them.

It’s important to note that what the specifics of the changes are to the previously publicized rules and the ones approved on Wednesday are not immediately clear. 

The resolution and accompanying information were not made public until after the business meeting — during the public comment period. So, the speakers could not know exactly what the new rules were.

The speakers pointed out that the commission’s new rule-making was “ambiguous,” with an array of specific stipulations that did not represent what many from the Frack Ban Coalition were looking for: an outright ban on all fracking or fracking-related activities in the watershed.

Tracy Carluccio, assistant director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, first uttered the phrase that many repeated: “The devil is in the details,” which were unknown as the public comment period opened. 

Maya Van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, noted that by not publicizing the proposed rule-making prior that the DRBC “fully undermined public engagement, which was not in keeping with DRBC tradition.”

Steven Tambini, executive director of the DRBC, then noted that this was the same process it used for the announcement of the previous rules.

Of course, the difference might be that those rules were on the table as proposed rules. The ones on Wednesday were voted on without the public really knowing what they contained.

Jeff Tittel, a member of the Frack Ban Coalition, said, “All the ‘where-ases’ sounded good, but where’s the beef?” He also referenced the new rules to be “as clear as fracked wastewater,” and said that the new rules would still allow projects like Elcon (now abandoned) to be built.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, pointed out that the fracking industry has a desperate need to find a way to dispose of the large quantities of water used in the fracking process. He warned the DRBC of that danger and urged a complete ban on all fracking-related activities in the basin as the only solution to the risk.

Here’s the DRBC’s background page for more information.

And here’s its FAQ about the new rules.

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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