N.J. Gov. Murphy Calls for Ban on Fracking Activities in Delaware River Basin

New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy has called for a sweeping ban on activities related to fracking for oil and natural gas in the Delaware River Basin that supplies drinking water to an estimated 15 million people.  Murphy, who chairs the Delaware River Basin Commission, a five-member panel with regulatory authority over fracking activities in the basin, wrote in a letter Monday to the commission’s executive director that the commission’s proposed rules for fracking “should be amended to include a ban of all fracking-related activities.”  Murphy sits on the commission along with the governors of Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania plus a federal representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In his letter, Murphy echoed a report released in September by Partnership for Policy Integrity highlighting the risks to the Delaware River Basin from chemicals used for fracking in Pennsylvania that are kept hidden from the public by trade secret protections.  Evidence obtained by PFPI from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that the chemicals may pose health risks.  The EPA has expressed doubts about whether wastewater treatment facilities can decontaminate wastewater from fracking operations due to the presence of unknown chemical substances.

“As noted by the Environmental Protection Agency in its 2016 report on the impact of fracking on water resources,” Murphy wrote, “the ability of regulatory agencies to assess the full impacts of fracking wastes on public health and the environment is hampered by the prevalence of confidentiality claims that prevent disclosure of the chemical constituents of the fracking fluid.”

The basin commission has proposed to ban fracking in the basin (there is currently a moratorium on the practice) while allowing the importation of fracking wastewater for treatment inside the basin.  The commission has also proposed to allow freshwater export for fracking elsewhere.  There is potential for high-volume fracking for natural gas that lies beneath the basin, while wastewater could be imported from nearby fracking operations in Pennsylvania and freshwater could be exported to these operations.  Murphy did not address the potential for freshwater exports directly in his call for a broad ban on fracking activities but wrote that “New Jersey supports a full ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing the Delaware River Basin and the importation, storage, treatment, disposal and/or discharge of fracking wastewater.”

The basin commission is expected to vote on fracking rules for the basin soon.  At least three members of the commission have to support Murphy’s proposal for it to take effect.