Advocacy group seeks a full environmental impact review for Delaware River Basin Commission prior to adopting any gas development regulations
Seeking to protect the Delaware River Basin and the health of the millions of people who live, work and play in the Basin, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability files lawsuit today against DRBC and federal government for failure to perform NEPA review emphasizing the critical need for a human health impact assessment before any gas development is allowed.
Alarmed by the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) proposal that it may permit an estimated 18,000 horizontal gas wells in the Delaware River watershed, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) filed a lawsuit today against the DRBC itself and the federal representatives on the DRBC over the failure of DRBC and all other federal agencies with responsibilities in the watershed to prepare and consider a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) before adopting regulations that will allow gas wells to be drilled throughout most of the watershed. The lawsuit claims that it is against federal law for the DRBC and the agencies involved – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — to refuse to prepare an EIS.
DCS acknowledges the New York State Attorney General’s (AG) office for their bold and decisive action to start the process to correct the failure of the DRBC and the other Federal agencies to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with the filing of their lawsuit at the end of this past May. Our suit has been consolidated with the AG’s suit and a somewhat differently focused suit brought by the Delaware RiverKeeper, National Parks Conservation Association and the RiverKeeper at a legal conference held this afternoon in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York before Judge Garaufis.
DCS contends that the DRBC, which is in charge of protecting the water resources of the Delaware River Basin for current and future generations, did not conduct a full review as mandated under the NEPA of potential environmental impacts of shale gas development using high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin. Several times in public hearings before the DRBC since it began consideration of shale gas development, DCS attorney Jeff Zimmerman has warned the Commissioners that the DRBC is violating NEPA in proposing gas development regulations without considering and making available to the public an environmental impact statement (EIS) examining the full range of potential impacts of gas development, slated to include the industry’s estimate of 18,000 horizontal gas wells and associated infrastructure, in the special protection waters portion of the watershed.
In addition, DCS asserts that an assessment of potential health impacts is a crucial component of a full NEPA EIS. “A comprehensive health assessment is essential to understanding the full magnitude of impacts that will result to the people from decimating the ecosystem of the Delaware River Basin and converting it into an industrial zone,” said Barbara Arrindell, Director of DCS. Ms. Arrindell continued, “No less an authority than Dinah Bear, who for 25 years served as general counsel of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) charged with overseeing implementation of NEPA, has written that the inclusion of a robust, systematic approach to public health is supported by NEPA and regulations issued by the CEQ. Further, by Executive Order, NEPA has also been utilized to assess any disproportionately high and adverse human health effects on children, minority and low-income populations.”
“What we have in the Upper Basin is healthy, unique, and unspoiled,” said Joe Levine of DCS. “The consequences of shale gas development to the health and well being of the people who live here will be devastating and a public health disaster.”
Since impacts on human health have been reported with increasing frequency in gas drilling states, DCS contends it is incumbent on the DRBC and the federal agencies to assess the health impacts of drilling on air quality, water quality and quantity, noise and light pollution, chemical exposures and psychological stressors. This is especially critical since neither Pennsylvania nor New York has undertaken health impact assessments of their own.
The DRBC oversees the 13,539-square-mile area of the Delaware River Basin that supplies drinking water to approximately 15 million people, including residents of Philadelphia and New York City. When the DRBC’s proposed regulations are adopted, intense drilling will be allowed to proceed, risking surface water and groundwater contamination at each stage of the extraction, processing and distribution of the shale gas. Just to the west, in the Susquehanna River Basin, the number of contaminated water wells in the vicinity of gas drilling sites has been increasing despite recently issued guidelines by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environment Protection intended to prevent such contamination.
Formed four years ago, DCS is a leading advocacy organization in the anti-fracking movement that provided significant guidance and support to filmmaker Josh Fox for his award-winning documentary, Gasland. DCS has challenged a number of decisions made by the DRBC that have put at risk irreplaceable water resources.
According to DCS’ attorney Zimmerman, “You can’t do the EIS after you’ve already made a decision. DRBC must stop the process, wait for the EIS to be completed, and then review the project again with everyone having access to the EIS and its comprehensive evaluation of all cumulative impacts, including risks to human health and safety.”
Wernham, Aaron and Bear, Dinah, “Public Health Analysis Under The National Environmental Policy Act” (January 2010), http://www.epa.gov/region9/nepa/PortsHIA/pdfs/FAQIntegratingHIA-EIA.pdf