Opinion: DRBC Postpones Debacle. What’s A Conservationist to Do?

Imagine a Delaware River Basin Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin. Each river community will go down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it. Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Remember when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt? The British Empire laughed. They smirked.


I say to you  as I’ve said  regularly  to my long-suffering  children,  if you never listen to another word I say,  listen to me now:

The Delaware River Basin is threatened by the natural gas industry and hydraulic fracturing.  If you love the  river and its environs,  now is the time to act.  There won’t  be another moment.  In years to come, when  your water is spoiled and your land is worthless,  this is the moment you will remember and you  will ask yourself,  “What was so important that I didn’t protect the River Valley when I had the chance?”

The Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC) is under pressure from  the natural gas drilling industry, politicians, property holders and farmers dying on the vine.  The Commission’s decision to extend the public comment period on Chesapeake’s application was a gift to Conservationists but also provides drilling proponents with  additional time to concentrate their forces.

What can conservationists  do with the two months we’ve been given?

First rule of organizing:  identify your resources  and bring them to bear.  I’ll start with mine and those sent in by others. You add your own. (Three rules govern  community brainstorming:   think big,  fluidly  and don’t turn your nose up at any idea. It might not stand on its own but with others to bolster it,  the fabric becomes more whole.)

RESOURCES I see  that can be brought to bear in saving the Delaware River Basin:

The indescribable beauty of the area, the  thousands of people who started visiting as children and who now bring their grandchildren,  Robert Kennedy, Jr.,  Alan and Sandra Gerry, Jimmy Carter (flyfishing, flyfishing, flyfishing),  River and Mountainkeepers, WJFF,  The River Reporter, Sullivan Transition, Pete Seeger, The Sloop Clearwater, Upper Delaware Networkers,  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Wayne and Sullivan Peace Groups, Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development,  the many new groups springing up the length of the Delaware Basin in its defense, Thich Nhat Hanh,  the internet and its viral capacity, our kids,  Josh Fox, musicians, artists, writers, photographers, Maurice Hinchey, Hello Honesdale!, private lands where people can camp when they come for the day, Lawrence Rockefeller, Dan Rather, Amanda Burden, Charlie Rose, the New York City Council,  Wayne County Audobon Society, citizen journalists and commentators like Leni Santoro (Catskill Chronicle), Breathing is Political and Zest of Orange…

Of course, once we have our resources “on board,”  we have to give them something to do.

Imagine a   Delaware River Basin  Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.  Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly,  doesn’t it?  Remember  when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt?  The British Empire laughed.  They smirked.  They made fun of the “little brown man”  (as the newsreels described the Mahatma).  But then, the images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes  and  in that moment,  the sun began to set on the British Empire.

On the Conservation Day I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  —  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,  when orbiting  satellites can see it,  a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.   Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.

And if “too few people show up?”

I’m reminded of the political candidate who suggested during the last election cycle that certain members of Congress  should be investigated for Un-American activities.  Within 24 hours, the viral capacity of the internet had dumped $1 million dollars into her opponent’s campaign coffers.  (The poor man was absolutely flummoxed by  the unexpected bounty!)  We have the rest of July and all of August to organize  before Labor Day (if that’s the weekend we choose).   We have nothing to lose by thinking as large and inclusively as we can.   By the end of September,  the DRBC will most likely have made its decision on Chesapeake’s application to begin their surface water  withdrawals.  (For a detailed explanation of what the withdrawals will look like, please see James Barth’s lucid explanation in the “comments”  section following my last post, “Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River.”)

CottageWorks and Breathing Is Political will each donate $200 for the purpose of promoting the Day of Conservation. Whatever consortium of groups is willing to help organize the event, the money is theirs.

Finally,  I want to address the issue of language.  We who protect are often in defensive mode. Whether we stand in defense of the Constitution or our world’s ecology,   our position is often a response to a perceived threat.  In consequence,  we’re portrayed as the “antis”:  anti-war, anti-frakking, anti-nuclear, anti-business, anti-farmers.  I no longer submit to that characterization.  I am not “an anti-frakker.”  Besides being a nasty assortment of consonants,  I’m  not “anti-” anything.  I am a Conservationist.  I am  a walking, talking, thinking, loving,  nurse, construction worker, paralegal, writer and former farmworker.  And I’m pro-water, baby!

Many thanks to Karl Rove for the instruction.

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Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River

Filmmaker, Josh Fox (Water Under Attack) asked a series of questions which, for the most part, went unanswered. “Who will be monitoring the wells and the trucks hauling the waste water? If that monitoring is a requirement of the application process, is there a body that will enforce the regulations? I’ve witnessed trucks dumping fluids. I have glass jars full of stuff that truckers were ordered to dump in the Susquehanna River.”


The  Delaware River Basin Commission’s  agenda for July 15, 2009 contained twenty docketed items for review.  The meeting was scheduled for 1:00 pm.  At noon, except for some media crews, the Hearing room was empty.   By 12:55, in the middle of a gorgeous summer workday, it was standing-room-only. Interested parties plugged laptops into outlets and blessed wireless networks.

Several  items docketed for DRBC review were approved with little discussion.  Only two or three  members of the public addressed applications other than  Docket #20 and with each  DRBC decision, the audience  shifted, taking deep calming breaths.

At 1:36 PM,  the DRBC announced “that the public record on [DRAFT DOCKET D-2009-20-1] will remain open until Wednesday, July 29, 2009 to allow an additional opportunity for the public to submit written comments.”  Some  in the audience weren’t sure they’d heard correctly but it was official:  no decision would be made  on Docket #20 until after the extended public comment period passed.

Why had  DRAFT DOCKET D-2009-20-1  roused residents of the Delaware River Basin to leave their farms and offices in the middle of a work week?

On May 19, 2009, according to the DRBC website,  DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier announced that sponsors of  natural gas extraction projects “could not begin any natural gas extraction project located in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters without first applying for and obtaining commission approval.  This determination.. asserts commission review over all aspects of natural gas extraction projects in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters, regardless of the amount of water withdrawn or the capacity of domestic sewage treatment facilities accepting fracking wastewater.

On May 22, 2009 Chesapeake Appalachia  asked the DRBC “to review” its request  to remove up to 30 million gallons of surface water from the West Branch of the Delaware River over a period of 30 days “to support Chesapeake’s
natural gas development and extraction activities…for natural gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations…for the applicant’s exploration and development of natural gas wells in the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Less than 40 working days later,  the public was sitting in the DRBC Hearing Room.

Although the majority of  speakers  supported  the Executive Director’s May 19, 2009 determination, several raised issues of  agency jurisdiction and enforcement responsibility. Filmmaker, Josh Fox (Water Under Attack) asked a series of questions which, for the most part, went  unanswered.  “Who will be monitoring the wells and the trucks hauling the waste water?  If  that monitoring is a requirement of the application process, is there a body that  will enforce the regulations?  I’ve witnessed trucks dumping fluids.  I have glass jars full of stuff that truckers were ordered to dump in the Susquehanna River.”

Most projections  by both opponents and supporters of natural gas drilling anticipate  tens of thousands of wells being drilled in the Basin.  It’s clear that no federal or state agency has budgetary funds  to monitor the majority of  water withdrawals, their impact on the river or  where the waste water is dumped and under what conditions. Mr. Fox summed up the sentiments of the majority of  speakers,  “They’re [natural gas drilling corporations] going to lawyer us to death.  You’ll need a private army to enforce any regulations.”

Another opponent of   hydraulic fracturing in the  Basin asked that drilling companies test wells of any person living in  the Basin both before and after drilling commences and not limit the testing to potable water.  Yet another suggested that drilling companies pay for the water they use in their operations.

Specific to the amount of water being withdrawn, several speakers addressed water temperature, stressing that  variations will endanger the Basin’s shad and trout populations.

Over the last decade,  the Basin has sustained lengthy periods of drought that resulted in flash flooding when the rains finally arrived.  “What will happen to the open pits of waste water during a flash flood?” one woman asked while someone else demanded,  “Will drilling companies be required to stop withdrawals during a drought?  Will they have the financial ability to stop the withdrawals?”

One member of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)  said after the Hearing,  “We asked the DRBC to do an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) prior to considering any application for gas extraction activity in the basin.  DCS attorney Jeffrey Zimmerman spoke and had previously submitted a detailed letter to the Commissioners.  We believe there are legal grounds for requiring this EIS.”

The  DCS has also posted a “Help Save the Delaware from Gas Drilling  revised petition at its website and is asking the public to continue submitting statements to the DRBC.

Comprehensive oversight and enforcement by the DRBC is constrained by The Delaware River Basin Compact and a US Supreme Court Decree (Section 3.5 (c)) which apparently gives  de facto veto power to the Compact’s   signatories:  The President of The United States and the Governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

That’s where confusion and mixed intent reign.

Politically-speaking, State Governors are often the first to be voted out of  office  when the national economy tanks.  Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania lifted the ban on drilling in State forests and called natural gas drilling  of the Marcellus Shale a potential Gold Rush while saying significant problems caused by early exploration must be balanced with its benefits.  His  Department of Environmental Protection appointee, John Hanger, provided more insight as to the Commonwealth’s position on hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling, “… some of the chemicals could be dangerous to human health but the  risk has to be weighed against the benefits that will come from the exploitation of…the ‘enormous’ gas reserves contained in the Marcellus Shale.”   Although “he pledged that officials would respond diligently to any complaints about polluted water resulting from the drilling,”  he was unable to  “confirm or deny reports that water in the northeast Pennsylvania township of Dimock — where many producing wells are located — is being contaminated by chemicals…”

To add further confusion,  DRBC’s rules and regulations state, “The Commission will rely on signatory party reviews as much as possible”  which may be one of the points Governor Rendell intends to press.

Proponents of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing repeated their assertions that new drilling methods and chemicals are safe, though none cited to  any independent scientific studies.   Noel Van Swol of Fremont alluded to DCS and their ilk as “dilettantes.” He further stated, “Seventy thousand acres are ready to be leased in New York from Hancock to Port  Jervis.  The towns are dying.  Anti-drilling presentations falsely assume that water withdrawals from the Delaware are not renewable,”  and claimed rainfall would replenish the water taken by drilling companies.

Our world’s water supply is a closed system.  Despite Mr. Van Swol’s  assertions, rainfall cannot “replenish” that closed system.  It’s merely one inherent part of it.

The next business meeting and public hearing of the Delaware River Basin Commission will be on Wednesday, September 23, 2009.

Draw A Line in the Sand: DRBC Hearing: July 15, 2009

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “There are no coincidences in a murder investigation.” What about in cases of “depraved indifference?” When Coca Cola’s bottling practices destroyed water tables in India, didn’t the company know, as a “reasonable person,” that the local farmers and communities would be decimated?


Each day, we tell ourselves there are lines we won’t cross.

But, as global food, water and housing crises tear at the fabric of our local communities, it’s increasingly difficult to pay local farm market prices when Wal-mart has plastic-coated apples for less.  Eventually, as things get tougher, crossing even our most deepset lines is inevitable.  People who had jobs last year are  sleeping in tents and cars this year. Some of us will steal  food and shoes for our children and property holders wil sell gas leases to  drilling companies like Chesapeake.

It’s fine and dandy to say that stark times demand stark lines set in  stark terms but  gray areas abound. Diametrically opposed interests claim the same motivations. Consider the issue of hydraulic fracturing.  Proponents say, “Drilling is in the national interest. It’s a matter of national security.”  They say  there’s no evidence that fracking poisons our water, land, food and people.  Opponents  also cite “national security” but point to circumstantial evidence that links fracking  to increased earthquake activity, polluted well water and a plethora of health concerns. (“Circumstantial” because the gas drilling industry is currently exempted from disclosing the chemicals they use  in hydraulic fracturing.  Consequently, no  evidentiary studies have been conducted.) Interestingly,  few Congresspeople support full disclosure of  fracking chemicals. (Find out if your Senators and Representative support The FRAC-ACT (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,  S1215/HR2766).)*

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “There are no coincidences in a murder investigation.” What about in cases of  “depraved indifference?” When Coca Cola’s bottling practices destroyed  water tables in India,  didn’t  the company know, as a “reasonable person,”  that the local farmers and communities would be decimated? When Monsanto polluted water and soil in  a bevy of locales,  didn’t the company, as a reasonable person, understand  the dangers posed by its actions to the local water, soil and animal/human population?  When Dow and the US government bathed Vietnam and its populations with Agent Orange (dioxin), they knew  the dangers. When my beloved Lake Erie was dying and the great Cuyahoga River burned,  didn’t the corporate polluters know their own practices were suspect?

All over the world, like lobsters dying quietyly in cold water brought to a slow  boil,
people are being incrementally dispossessed of rights, health,  life and property by corporate-government collusion. Doesn’t that collusion meet the legal tests of “depraved indifference” and “conspiracy?”

Don’t be silly.  Of course it does! but the guilty ones have written the laws. They’ve covered their liability with convoluted “immunity” clauses.  They’ve stacked
the deck.

Petroleum wars are so passé, don’t you think? In the near future, our beautiful children will wear their patriotic colors to the  water wars.  Around the world, corporations control greater and greater percentages of the world’s water.  Rampant pollution will lead to reductions of our finite “water reserves”  and the costs of “water reclamation” will skyrocket.  Exorbitant water bills will be a fabulous source of revenue for…somebody.  Probably General Electric of Hudson-River-pollution-fame.

A smart friend of mine recently said, “We beat back NYRI because we could see the corporate bad guy.  Gas frakking’s completely different.  It’s pitting neighbors against neighbors.”

So what do I, a wildly flabbergasted opponent of fracking, say to a twenty-something  grocery clerk  who sacrificed her teen years in  minimum wage jobs because she dreamed of going to college?  What do I say when she tells me she can’t go back to college in September because even the local community college costs more than she’s saved?

What do I say to the man who folds clothes for minimum wage  at the local laundry because the bank refused him a bridge loan to keep his restaurant open?

What about the  graduate student with an education debt in excess of $250,000 and no health insurance or  the dairy farmers in hock up to their necks who anxiously watch  their corn seed rot in the field?  What is my counter-offer when a drilling company waves a $100,000 gas lease in front of  them?

The Natural Resources Defense Council tells us frakking is a done deal but Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) fights on. “The DCS is part of a nationwide coalition of groups of citizens speaking from their homes, who do not want their environment and lives and communities further ruined by the current irresponsible approach to energy sourcing. It is our right and obligation as citizens to participate in the choices that will affect our future.  DCS’s concern is for the health and sustainability of life here (NE Pennsyvania) for us as people, and for the entire ecosystem we and all those downstream depend on.”

Members of the DCS are regular attendees at Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) meetings. They are knowledgeable about the threats posed by  hydraulic fracturing   to our ground water, food supply and health. Their site is chock-full of facts, studies, maps and advocacy as well as articles about The FRAC-ACT (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,  S1215/HR2766).

Please  browse their resources.  Plagiarize  their text and write a letter to the DRBC. Contribute to the DCS  legal fund and attend the DRBC Hearing on  Wednesday, July 15th.  (Email me at cottageworks@lizbucar.com  if you’re looking to carpool and I’ll forward your information to a carpool coordinator.)

The Hearing will consider an application by Chesapeake Appalachia for  “permission from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to withdraw 1 million gallons a day from the West Branch of the Delaware River for hydraulic fracturing and natural gas extraction.  This is the first application to the DRBC for this purpose and would put the Delaware River Watershed at risk for tens of thousands of applications to follow…The Hearing will be held at 1:00 pm at…Northampton Community College’s Fowler Family Southside Center, 511 East 3rd Street, 6th Floor, Room 605, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. WE NEED PEOPLE THERE!”

(If nothing else, please read the Damascus Citizens’ Letter to Delaware River Basin Commission It is a  comprehensive  iteration of why the DRBC must deny Chesapeake’s current application.)

*As to The Frac Act: it will NOT stop the drilling.  It merely forces drilling companies to identify the  chemicals they use during the hydraulic fracturing process so that once our public water supply is poisoned, we can, ostensibly, prove the drilling companies did it.  (The Safe Drinking Water Act only protects  public water wells that service 25 or more individuals. Very few rural-dwellers   get their water from public wells!)

So who will buy our properties when our aquifers are poisoned?  Who will pay the taxes?  When our ground water is polluted, who will buy the food we produce locally and work so hard to distribute?  And even if the FRAC Act is passed, how many of us will have health insurance?  Who among us will be able to afford the diagnostic tests  necessary for participation in full-blown epidemiological studies?  And  once we’re guinea pigs without a human voice, who will ensure that epidemiological studies of our poisoned bodies are conducted?

When your local legislator refuses to draft a  resolution banning hydraulic fracturing until chemical disclosures and studies are made,  ask him/her the questions posed here.

In  The Pianist, Warsaw prisoners are made to lie belly-down in the dirt.  Their
shoulders nearly touch.  Each body shudders as an executioner’s bullet shoots through the back of its head. First one… then the next and the next. Each prisoner feels the slight jar and stillness when the one beside him is killed.  None raises a voice  or a hand. Their eyes are closed. I’ve thought they succumbed without a fight because  the horror was beyond understanding; or because the crushing of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had sapped their will; or that they hoped for a miracle or believed, if  they were very, very quiet, they’d be invisible to the executioner.  The nearer the footsteps behind them, the quieter they lay — like babies hiding behind their hands in games of peek-a-boo — seeking invisibility.

Wherever we draw the line at this crucial moment, saving our communities isn’t over just because  the Natural Resources Defense Council says fracking is inevitable. It’s  over when we quit.

When people lose control of their local resources, it’s hard to argue  the existence of healthy communities. I grew up on Lake Erie. I watched it die  and our community with it.  When it was revived, so was our village.

If I thought a line of  Neo-Gandhis standing in front of the drilling equipment would  turn the tide, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I still wouldn’t know how to convince the grocery clerk, the farmer or the graduate to join me.

Good informational links:

Hydraulic fracturing and  fishing

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Gas Extraction, Hydraulic Fracturing, Earthquakes and the Water Supply

The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years.


(James Barth’s commentary in response to the New York Times article, Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears was recommended for its “thoughtfulness” by The NY Times’ editorial staff.  It is re-printed here by permission of the author and with appreciation by Breathing Is Political.  Also, please follow these links for the earthquake threat in New York State, FEMA’s Earthquake Hazard Map and Water Under Attack, a new documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox)

*   *   *   *

The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years. They will not be drilling to release geothermal energy, but what we call “natural gas”.  The Marcellus shale, which underlies most of Pennsylvania and extends into the Catskills and Southern Tier of NY State, is the prime target of the gas and oil industry. Other shale layers may be targeted, and indeed even sandstone layers, like the Oriskany, which Chesapeake is currently drilling into in Wayne County, PA.

These wells will be drilled up to a depth of 9,000 feet (or greater), and then they will turn horizontal for another 3,000 to 5,000 feet in length before being hydraulically fractured through our pristine aquifers using proprietary toxic chemicals that the companies, like Halliburton and Schlumberger, manufacture and sell. These companies and these toxic solutions are exempted from the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air and Right to Know Acts (among others) by the absurd amendments that were included in the July 29, 2005 Energy Act that was passed by Congress.

Not only do we fear correctly for the health of our drinking water systems from this drilling, but now, as it is explained in this article, we have to fear the potential seismic ramifications of these projects. These potential seismic activities further undermine any credible claims by the oil and gas industry that such drilling will never endanger our drinking water. Whether such earthquakes will topple buildings or not, they certainly will undermine any pathetic cement bonding and sealing that this industry claims will keep the production gas, and poisonous cocktails from migrating upwards into our aquifers.

I’m very grateful that the Times published this article. I’m also mystified  as to why it is about drilling for geothermal energy in California, when the Times has not yet published one article that explores the potential devastating implications to the health and environment of our immediate New York City area  that such horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing poses! This threat has been loud and developing over the past one and a half years in our region. It is well past time for the NY Times to directly take on this issue, and for the more than fifteen million area residents who depend on this water for life, to become aware of it.