Successful Anti-Fracking Organization Damascus Citizens for Sustainability Embarks on New Legal Fight to Save Rivers
The citizen group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) has filed a public records request to force the Susquehanna River Basin Comission (SRBC), which includes officials from Pennsylvania, New York State, Maryland and the federal government, to show what, if anything, it has been doing to protect regional waters and the general public from the hydrofracking water demands and pollution.
DCS Director Barbara Arrindell said: "We are concerned that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission appears to be even worse than the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) in protecting our vital watersheds from the contamination risks of gas development using hydraulic fracturing of horizontal wells."
The DRBC is a federal-interstate agency, charged with the responsibility to protect the water resources (both surface and groundwaters) of the Delaware River Basin that over 15 million people rely on every day. Although DCS and others, including the Attorney General of New York, have sued DRBC for failing to meet its environmental impact statement obligations, Ms. Arrindell explained: "At least the DRBC has put a hold on gas permitting while it is trying to decide how to regulate gas development. As bad as things are with the DRBC, the situation is far worse in the Susquehanna River Basin."
Compared to the Delaware Basin, there is much more of the Marcellus Shale under the Susquehanna River Basin. So far, the SRBC has shown little concern about fracking impacts on Susquehanna waters in Pennsylvania, New York State and Maryland, taking minimal or no regulatory action. The SRBC has appeared to be reluctant to protect Susquehanna water resources, describing its regulatory role in relation to fracking as both "indirect" and "limited."
Jeff Zimmerman, counsel for DCS, said: "We're concerned that SRBC may be ignoring its water resources protection obligations and letting gas development proceed largely unchecked. We're taking DRBC to task for the way it has failed to put the science first when it comes to developing gas regulations, but things may be even worse with the SRBC."
Jordan Yeager, a Curtin & Heefner LLP lawyer who filed the request on behalf of DCS, said: "The SRBC has a vital role to play in protecting the water resources of the Susquehanna River Basin. Particularly with the new legislation that has come out of Harrisburg undermining the role of local governments, it is time for the SRBC to step up and demonstrate that it takes its mandate seriously."
Added Ms. Arrindell: "We want to make sure that SRBC knows that the public is watching. It cannot continue to do the industry's bidding behind closed doors and expect for that to go undetected."
The records disclosure request filed by DCS is available online.
The SRBC is a federal-interstate compact agency, with boundaries determined not by state lines but by the Susquehanna River and its many tributaries that form the 27,510 square mile drainage area. According to the SRBC, the state-federal body "can deal with water resource problems occurring anywhere in the vast drainage area. The Commission has adopted a comprehensive plan to guide not only its own policies, but those of its members - New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the federal government. It is the official blueprint for the management and development of the basin's water resources."
The DRBC is also a federal-interstate compact agency that was formed in 1961 by the United States and the four basin states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware). Its five members include the basin state governors and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who serves as the federal representative. The commission has legal authority over both water quality and water quantity-related issues throughout the Delaware River Basin.
Since its inception in 2008, the Milanville, PA.-based Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, has been dedicated to the issue of protecting citizens from the ravages of shale gas extraction. DCS, a 501(c)3, has employed a variety of strategies to respond to this problem: public education, litigation, advocacy and technical assistance to communities throughout the region. DCS's public health advocacy role relating to gas drilling has had international influence.
For more information, go to Damascus Citizens for Sustainability.