Susquehanna named "Most Endangered River"

This week American Rivers named the Susquehanna River the most endangered river in the United States. Why? Massive unconventional gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. It seems there is no end to bad news in Pennsylvania on gas extraction.

They report:

“Natural gas drilling poses one of the greatest risks our nation’s rivers have faced in decades,” says Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president for conservation at American Rivers. “Without strong regulations, public health and drinking water will be threatened by the toxic, cancer-causing pollution that results from hydraulic fracturing.”

“The Susquehanna is one of the most ancient rivers on Earth. In its current state, it is a far cry from the pristine and primeval watershed that existed only a few centuries ago. The threat posed by the natural gas industry and horizontal hydrofracturing will eclipse the environmental legacy of the lumber and coal-mining industries combined, and as a long-time advocate for the protection of the Susquehanna, I believe we must call for an immediate moratorium on all water withdrawals and all natural gas drilling until the technology and legislation catches up with the desire and need to exploit these fossil-fuel resources,” said Don Williams, Susquehanna River Sentinel.

"Recent problems caused by poorly-regulated gas drilling in Pennsylvania include: ground water pollution in Susquehanna County resulting in loss of a community's drinking water, a blowout in Bradford County that went uncontrolled, allowing toxic fracking chemicals to flow into the Susquehanna, deadly accidents at a gas well site as well as chemical spills, explosions and fires. We call on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to immediately impose a moratorium on any new drilling in the Susquehanna River Basin, as was done by the Delaware River Basin Commission,” said Jeff Schmidt, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter. "Until Pennsylvania, the SRBC and the federal government adopt new laws and regulations to fully protect public health and the environment from the dangers of Marcellus Shale gas drilling, no new drilling should be allowed,” Schmidt continued.

Don Williams, who writes at the Susquehanna River Sentinel, was on our show last year. He has long been skeptical of the gas industry and its impact on the Susquehanna, a river has called "a crown jewel." In a recent post, he lamented the Susquehanna River Basin Commission's response to the "Most Endangered" label which it sees as a way of raising awareness but not necessarily scientifically accurate nor enabling better regulation of the river.

Specifically, they respond, "Many in the public who oppose or are very wary of this practice believe the overriding concern relates to the potential impacts to water quality, which falls outside of SRBC’s regulatory responsibilities."

Williams sees things differently. Citing eight instances of water quality in the SRBC's compact, he writes the compact "appears to give the SRBC - at minimum - the opportunity to expand its authority if deemed necessary. I, for one, think it's long overdue."

In our search to understand what should be done with the gas boom, we are going to be exploring what stakeholders across the spectrum think regulation should be.

America's Rivers advocate the following four measures.

  • A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing along the Susquehanna until better protections are in place;
  • Analysis by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) of impacts to clean water, and issuance and enforcement of proper regulations.
  • Removal by Congress of loopholes that have helped the natural gas industry bypass major environmental regulations.
  • Passage by Congress of the FRAC Act of 2011, which calls for regulation of fracking by the Environmental Protection Agency and requires disclosure of the chemicals used in the procedure. The legislation would also repeal a provision added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempts the natural gas industry from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

What do you think regulations should be?

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