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N.J. environmental groups against drilling along Delaware River

drillrig123009_optAs if there wasn't enough to worry about in New Jersey's drinking water.

Environmental groups gathered along the Delaware River Wednesday to call on the Delaware River Basin Commission to protect the Delaware from toxic chemical contamination related to natural gas drilling. The Delaware River provides drinking water for approximately one-third of New Jerseyans.

The groups also released a new report, Toxic Chemicals on Tap: How Gas Drilling Threatens Drinking Water, that details over fifteen chemicals linked to cancer that are used by drillers. The report also features several cases where some of these same chemicals were found in ground water which supplies drinking water wells.

"New Jerseyans need to be positive that there are no toxic chemicals in their tap water," said Rachel Kohl, Global Warming Associate with Environment New Jersey. "Drilling for natural gas should not come at the expense of our drinking water. We call on the DRBC to hold off on approving any new gas well projects in the Delaware River watershed until the commission's pending regulations have been implemented," she said. "Further, Environment New Jersey calls on the Delaware River Basin Commission to include our report's recommendations in their regulations on gas wells," Kohl continued.

To extract natural gas, drillers often inject a toxic mix of fluids into the ground to create fractures which allow natural gas to flow to the surface. Many of the chemicals included in these fluids, such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and formaldehyde, are linked to cancer. This process can also force toxic substances that are already underground, such as mercury and arsenic, into drinking water. Although drillers recover some of the pollutant laden fluid they inject, much still remains underground and can also end up contaminating water supplies.

Fluids recovered by drillers can later contaminate water if stored unsafely. Frequently, the recovered fluids are stored in open-air pits, which have the potential to leak or flood. Drilling fluids are often sent to local water treatment facilities that are not equipped to deal with these chemical pollutants. Also, the amount of water needed for the entire process — an average of 4.5 million gallons per gas well — may drain local watersheds. In some cases, it has caused streams to run dry.

Though there are currently no gas wells in the Delaware River watershed, there are seven pending applications within the watershed in New York and Pennsylvania and approximately 200,000 acres of land has already been leased by drillers in the Upper Delaware River watershed. "These proposed gas wells would put 2.8 million New Jerseyans who rely on the Delaware River for drinking water at risk of toxic pollution," Kohl said.

A recent case of contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania highlights the perils of using hazardous chemicals. On September 16, 2009, a spill of fracturing fluids reached a stream and killed fish near the drilling site. Nearly 8,000 gallons of fracturing fluids were spilled in total. Additionally, since drilling began in Dimock residents have been complaining of clouded drinking water, sick animals, and flammable wells.



 

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