Watershed Wednesdays – Week 6

Welcome to Watershed Wednesday #6 January 19, 2022

This week’s issue is Water Export

Today, January 19, begins the sixth week in our 10-week comments campaign.

Each week, the Delaware River Frack Ban Coalition Organizing Committee will focus on a different aspect of the DRBC draft regulations pertaining to the import of wastewater produced by fracking and the export of water from the Delaware River Watershed for fracking outside of the Basin. (Email for coalition: DRFrackBan@gmail.com). The public comment period is open now and will close February 28, 2022.

To comment: Go to the DRBC online portal, fill in the form and cut and paste some or all of these suggested points into the template, adding a line about your personal interest in a full ban. Alternatively, you can write your own comment and insert it or attach a document. Personalizing your comment is always the most powerful and best to put your sentences that are in your own words FIRST. Make certain that you review your submittal when prompted and click the final button that delivers your comment.  You should receive a delivery receipt from DRBC. And you can submit more than one – submit as many comments as you want.

Go here to submit a comment: https://dockets.drbc.commentinput.com/?id=x2K8A

The Watershed Wednesday from the prior week is added every week to a public google site. In case you want to comment using a past topic or get references we have provided, you can get access here: https://sites.google.com/view/delawareriverfrackban/  Click on the Watershed Wednesdays tab! The materials can be copied and are there for your use. Remember you can make as many comments as you want!

This week we focus on water for use in fracking that DRBC is proposing allow to be withdrawn and exported, lost forever from the Delaware River Watershed and ruined and wasted to frack for gas in our neighboring communities – wrong on all fronts!

The export of water for use in fracking outside of the watershed inflicts irreparable harm in multiple ways: It deprives springs, tributaries, groundwater and the mainstem Delaware River of critical flows, quantity and quality; it induces fracking in locations where it may not occur due to water shortages in overdrawn streams; it induces more fracking, which damages public health and the environment; and it increases the emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, worsening the climate crisis.

Any and all of these issues can be included in your comment to the DRBC on the draft regulation’s allowance of water exports. You can cut and paste the suggested comment below into the DRBC web portal or you can write your own – if you write your own, please consider using the references provided.

Go here to submit a comment: https://dockets.drbc.commentinput.com/?id=x2K8A

Suggested Comment:

  • The export of water for use in fracking outside of the watershed deprives springs, lakes, tributaries, and the mainstem Delaware River of critical flows, quantity, and quality and can deplete groundwater and aquifers, threatening water supplies. The volume of water used to frack wells in shale formations, including the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, has grown tremendously in recent years. Instead of 3-4 million gallons per well, shale gas wells averaged about 11 million gallons in 2017 and can double to 20 million, depending on the length of the horizontal well bore.[1] [2] There are wells in Ohio that have used as much as 87 million gallons of water per “super lateral” well.[3] The fracking industry needs more water so they are looking to raid the Delaware River Basin. DRBC, do not underestimate the fracking industry’s determination to exploit water resources to feed fracking. The industry must be shut out by not allowing any exports of water from the Delaware River Watershed for fracking.
  • The water used in fracking is a depletive use – it doesn’t return to the source. These huge volumes of water either are locked underground or flow back as highly contaminated wastewater that cannot be fully cleansed of its toxic and radioactive properties. The loss of flows in waterways has a cascade of degrading impacts that can harm in-stream habitats, disrupt species’ life cycles, reduce biodiversity, and destroy ecological flow regimes.[4] [5] The depletion of water from waterways reduces their ability to assimilate pollutants and repel salt-water intrusion into critical water supplies in the tidal river, including millions of people in Philadelphia and South Jersey. The withdrawal and export of water from groundwater robs aquifers that feed water supply wells, reduces and disrupts natural groundwater flows, and potentially destroys essential hydrologic connections with wetlands and other water dependent systems. This harms water quality, degrades and diminishes aquifers, streams, aquatic life and flora and fauna, and threatens the safety of drinking water supplies. In fact, the DRBC meticulously manages the water flows of the river with a goal of repelling the salt front.[6] That goal will be undercut if you allow water to be removed from the watershed, reducing our freshwater flows. DRBC, allowing water to be used in fracking is wasting and ruining precious water. I oppose the draft rules that will allow water to be exported from the Delaware River Watershed and urge you to completely ban the export of water for fracking.
  • Exporting water to drill and frack gas wells induces fracking in locations where it may not occur due to water shortages in overdrawn streams and it induces more fracking, which damages public health and the environment. It is outright wrong and unethical to induce fracking elsewhere when you have determined it is too dangerous to allow on your home turf. You have rightly banned fracking within the Delaware River Watershed.[7] It is not safe and has unmitigatable impacts to water, the environment, and public health.[8] Enabling fracking will also increase the emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, worsening the climate crisis.[9] DRBC, I want you to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, by changing the proposed rules to completely ban the export of water and water resources from the Delaware River Watershed for use in drilling and fracking.

Background and References:

Only 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater and only about 0.5% is available to use as drinking water.[10] How we manage water will define our watershed’s future and the future of the planet. Yet we take water for granted, using water as if it has no limits. In fact, water is replenished through the hydrologic cycle but it is diminished by depletive use and by pollution, both limiting the water available and its potability.

Fracking uses enormous volumes of water, approximately 5-10 million gallons per well, and increases of 10-20 million gallons are becoming more frequent. Technology used today can lengthen horizontal well bores up to 4 miles.[11] This means more water is needed to flood the well bores with fracking water. Fractracker Alliance reports that this increased the average amount of water used per fracked well in Pennsylvania to about 11 million in 2017. In the Marcellus Shale, “super wells” have used between 10 and 20 million gallons. These huge volumes mean that the industry is seeking more water in watersheds they have been depleting for years and the Delaware River Watershed is untapped by them.

The use of water for fracking is “depletive” – all of the water is lost – either by being polluted or by being consumed since most of the water injected for fracking is not recovered and is not returned to the source (PADEP reports that between 8% and 10% of Marcellus Shale frack water, called “flowback”, is returned to the surface, meaning up to 90% of the injected water stays underground.)  This use depletes the surface waterway and/or groundwater from beneath where it is taken.

The water injected for fracking is not only “consumed”, but is a total loss to its source. By comparison, evaporative losses for uses such as agriculture use water that evaporates to the atmosphere, essentially recycling the used water into the air where it returns to earth as precipitation. But the water used for fracking is no longer available to the hydrologic cycle because most of it is left sequestered deep in the ground, cut off from the natural water cycle, compounding the impacts of the loss. Over time, an additional portion of the water injected for fracking comes up to the surface called “produced water”, but is no longer considered “water” and must be handled as wastewater. This “produced” water is highly polluted and is never restored to its original quality, representing a irretrievable loss.

Under the DRBC proposed water export regulations, the definition of exportation of water is the removal of the water from the watershed without its return, so the water exported will be permanently lost to the Basin.

Depletion of water from waterways has far-reaching and complex environmental impacts. For instance, the health of a stream relies on its maintenance of a natural flow regime, also called an ecological flow regime. The life in a stream or river is adapted to its habitat based on its seasonal fluctuation, oxygen and nutrients in the water, its rate of flow and resulting rippling effects, the temperature and depth of the water, the benthic creatures that provide the base of the food web and define the biodiversity of a stream, and many other elements that are sensitive to water withdrawals and depletion. Water withdrawals from water bodies have a cascade of degrading effects on stream life and quality that can be exacerbated by complete water loss or depletive use. Water withdrawn from groundwater that is not returned to the subwatershed can, likewise, deplete groundwater, aquifers, and in turn reduce hydrologic contributions to wetlands, springs, and waterways. Pumping of groundwater can change natural groundwater flows, can move pollution plumes in unexpected directions, and can deplete existing water supply wells through interference. There is no mitigation that can undo these effects if the water use is depletive. The only way to protect the quality of our streams, groundwater, and river and the life and water supplies they support is to completely deny exports, preventing depletive loss.    

The DRBC proposed Water Code[12] differs from the existing Water Code[13]. It states in both: “The waters of the Delaware River Basin are limited in quantity and the Basin is frequently subject to drought warnings and drought declarations due to limited water supply storage and streamflow during dry periods. Therefore, it shall be the policy of the Commission to discourage the exportation of water from the Delaware River Basin.”

But the proposed Water Code last sentence states: “Therefore, it is the policy of the Commission to promote the conservation and preservation of water and related natural resources, including aquatic ecosystems, and effectuate the Comprehensive Plan and the uses of the water resources of the Basin identified therein, by discouraging, limiting, or placing conditions on the exportation of Basin water as may be required to protect the health and safety of Basin residents, aquatic ecosystems and the uses of water identified in the Compact and Comprehensive Plan.” But how will they discourage, limit or condition exports for fracking? Will this stop exports for the fracking industry?

The proposed water export regulations have similar considerations to the existing Water Code that must be met to export water. But the draft regulations propose codifying specific considerations:[14]

1. the sponsor demonstrates that the exportation of Basin water is required to serve a straddled or adjacent public water system;

2. the sponsor demonstrates that the exportation of Basin water is required on a temporary, short-term, or emergency basis to meet public health and safety needs; or

3. the sponsor is proposing an exportation of wastewater.

However, these considerations are not difficult to get around, particularly for a determined driller. First, a straddled or adjacent water system could be selling water for fracking, which is done by some water suppliers in Pennsylvania. Water could be depleted for fracking from the neighboring water system and replenished by the export of Delaware River Watershed water. Second, the meaning of “temporary, short-term, or emergency basis to meet public health and safety needs” may sound restrictive but is undefined. Depletion of water for fracking from a stream or subwaterahed can create extreme conditions locally, especially if exacerbated by low-flow conditions. Pipelines can be used to carry water out of the basin for long distances to relieve streams outside of our watershed that have been over-used for drilling and fracking. Drillers in Pennsylvania currently use pipelines to move water around for drilling and fracking in the Marcellus shale. Third, the export of wastewater is still an export of water that will never return to its source. Water that is used in the Delaware River Basin should be cleaned of contaminants and put back into the water cycle here, not exported as effluent or waste to another watershed. Shipping pollution out of the basin is not a responsible way to prevent pollution in the big picture. DRBC should ensure that its mandate to protect and improve water quality is carried out according to DRBC standards that meet its high bar for anti-degradation and restoration by completely cleaning up wastewater here. The only way to prevent water depletion of the Basin’s water is to completely prohibit the export of water for fracking.

Another important impact of the export of water is that upstream removal removes fresh water that dilutes the river and streams as they move downstream. While dilution is not “the solution to pollution”, the less clean fresh water flowing from upriver, the less assimilative capacity the river has to pollution inputs along its way, from legacy and continuing toxic contamination in the estuary and bay, and from salt water intrusion threatening downriver water supplies, worsened by climate change and sea level rise.

Additionally, the export of water has the potential to spur the building and operation of new pipelines to carry the water out of the watershed and the myriad adverse environmental impacts that would result. DRBC has not taken full jurisdiction of pipelines in its review of such projects under current regulations, despite the public’s insistence that they must. Transport of all kinds, whether by pipeline, truck or rail, has its own environmental impacts.

What would be the benefit to the Delaware River Watershed and the up to 17 million people who rely on the Delaware for water every day, to export our water at a total loss? Water supplies contribute 3.82 billion dollars in annual value to the regional economy and water quality brings $2.5M in annual economic benefit to the Basin, according to a study out of the University of Delaware.[15]  When water is depleted, it has real economic impacts for the source watershed that has lost the value of that water. And the loss to the watershed’s communities, habitats, ecosystems, and to the Delaware Wild and Scenic River and its aesthetic and recreational values, is permanent and long-lived, impacting us today and future generations as well.

Finally, inducing more fracking in the regions where the water would be exported is imposing grave environmental and human health harms on communities outside the basin. It is simply not ethical to ban fracking here in the Delaware River Watershed but feed the industry the water it needs to frack other places. As discussed in Watershed Wednesday #3 on Climate Impacts, “It means more fracking in Pennsylvania, which damages public health and the environment and increases the emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.” And in Watershed Wednesday #1, the pollution caused by toxic and radioactive fracking wastewater is examined. These are both available here: https://bit.ly/3siWvcN.  An examination of the human health damage that fracking is causing in Pennsylvania is here, in our October webinar: The Real Voices of the Marcellus Shale: Why Frack Wastewater Must be Banned.

[1] https://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/FT-WhitePaper-DRB-2018%20%28003%29.pdf

[2] http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2018/01/15/These-days-oil-and-gas-companies-are-super-sizing-their-well-pads/stories/201801140023

[3] Ted Auch, Fractracker Alliance, “The Freshwater and Liquid Waste Impact of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Ohio and West Virginia”,


[4] Instream Flows for Riverine Resource Stewardship, Instream Flow Council, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2004.

[5] “Potential impacts that should be evaluated due to decreased flow include loss of habitat,

direct impacts on sensitive life stages, loss of mobility for aquatic organisms, thermal impacts, decreased dissolved oxygen, impacts on wetland hydrology, impacts on recreation and fishing, and decreased quantity of water available for public water supply. Any new flow-related permit conditions should give priority to the best usage of domestic and municipal water supply.” Extracted from: NYSDEC, Division of Water Technical and Operational Guidance Series, “Incorporation of Flow-Related Conditions in Water Withdrawal Permits”, APR 12 2017. P. 6. https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/water_pdf/flowtogsfinal.pdf.

[6] https://www.nj.gov/drbc/programs/flow/salt-front.html

[7] “As the scientific and technical literature and the reports, studies, findings and conclusions of other government agencies reviewed by the Commission have documented, and as the more than a decade of experience with HVHF in regions outside the Delaware River Basin have evidenced, despite the dissemination of industry best practices and government regulation, HVHF and related activities have adversely impacted surface water and groundwater resources, including sources of drinking water, and have harmed aquatic life in some regions where these activities have been performed.” Extracted from DRBC website at: https://www.nj.gov/drbc/programs/natural/


[9] See: IPCC Reports https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/ and IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6)1, Working Group I Summary for Policymakers, Section A. The Current State of the Climate, 2021. At A.1.1, SPM-5. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#SPM. Also see: ”Wall Street Journal, The Leaks That Threaten the Clean Image of Natural Gas, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-leaks-that-threaten-the-clean-image-of-natural-gas-11565280375.

[10] https://www.nj.gov/drbc/programs/flow/

[11] http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2018/01/15/These-days-oil-and-gas-companies-are-super-sizing-their-well-pads/stories/201801140023

[12] https://www.nj.gov/drbc/library/documents/ProposedRulemaking/import-export_102821/WaterCode_2.30_proposed.pdf

[13] https://www.nj.gov/drbc/library/documents/ProposedRulemaking/import-export_102821/WaterCode_2.30_existing.pdf

[14] https://www.nj.gov/drbc/library/documents/ProposedRulemaking/import-export_102821/WaterCode_2.30_proposed.pdf  at 2.30.2(C).

[15] Gerald J. Kauffman, Socioeconomic Value of the Delaware River Basin in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania”, University of Delaware, 10.11.11, p. 26.

Check out Watershed Wednesdays, Week 1 , Week 2 , Week 3, Week 4, and Week 5 and submit comments on those topics too! Comment early and often!!