Pennsylvania is home to thousands of fracking wells, but the state’s governor has declared that fracking is off-limits in one critical part of the state. At a March 12 meeting in Philadelphia, I stepped up to ask Governor Tom Wolf if he supported a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. His answer couldn’t have been any clearer: "Yes, absolutely."
Wolf’s commitment comes at a crucial moment. Activists in the four states represented on the Delaware River Basin Commission (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware) fear that the DRBC might be considering new regulations that would allow drilling in the watershed, which provides drinking water to 17 million people. Hundreds showed up for a DRBC meeting last month to show that they vigorously oppose any moves that would allow drilling. News reports indicate that environmental officials from Pennsylvania have been discussing such regulations with DRBC staff.
In 2011, the DRBC was poised to approve rules that would have allowed the fracking industry to begin drilling in the watershed. But grassroots activist pressure derailed that plan, and the DRBC instituted a moratorium.
The Wolf administration had been sending mixed messages to activists about his position on fracking in the Delaware watershed; draft regulations were presented to Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection at the end of 2016. And on the whole, Wolf’s record on fracking has been disappointing. While he promised during his 2014 campaign to maintain a moratorium on fracking at the DRBC, he has actively pushed fracking in the rest of Pennsylvania, permitting over 3,400 new wells over the first 26 months of his administration. Wolf had stated in 2015 that he would ban the dangerous drilling process if the Republican legislature failed to approve his plans for a severance tax. Wolf’s tax plan failed that year; his current budget request includes a similar drilling tax, which is unlikely to pass.
Given the Trump administration’s obvious enthusiasm for pushing more fossil fuel drilling anywhere and everywhere it can, governors and local politicians can play a key role in resisting this agenda. Now that Governor Wolf has made his views clear, we must expect—and demand—that his representative on the Delaware River Basin Commission will push for a ban on fracking there.
But if fracking is bad for the Delaware River watershed, we think it's bad everywhere else in the state too. That's why Food & Water Watch will stand in solidarity with all communities impacted by fracking, pipelines, and fracked gas power plants all across Pennsylvania. We will challenge Wolf and other decision-makers on what we all know is a morally compromised position that fracking is considered too risky for communities in the Delaware watershed, where some of Pennsylvania's wealthiest communities reside, while simultaneously being considered safe enough for Pennsylvania's low-income communities elsewhere.