Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Delaware River: What the Frack?

Ask people about rivers on the National Wild and Scenic River list and you are likely to hear about the St. Croix in Minnesota, California’s Trinity, Maine’s Allagash or Michigan’s AuSable. When I say “What about the Delaware River?” people give me a quizzical look, or maybe one of disbelief. But most of the Delaware’s 330 miles from New York through Pennsylvania and New Jersey are designated Wild and Scenic with all the protective benefits afforded by this designation. More people may remember the crossing by George Washington on Christmas 1776, but few recognize its importance to their daily lives. The Delaware watershed drains four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S. land area. Approximately 15 million people rely on the Delaware River Basin for their drinking water including the populations of  New York and Philadelphia. The Delaware has been a strong presence in the communities through which it flows but its future is fragile.

The Delaware is a river valley of contrasts. There is the clean, clear waters of the River’s upper and middle sections which, combined with its cold tributary streams, support a landscape rich in fish and wildlife. It is also where the visually stunning Delaware Water Gap lies. Every year, millions of visitors take advantage of the wide range of recreational opportunities offered by its waters and forests. Its beauty takes you to a distant place despite being  just 90 minutes from the heart of New York City. The lower end of the River and its estuary host the world’s largest horseshoe crab population, an active commercial fishery and also the  heavy industry and busy shipping traffic that has come to be associated with Philadelphia. The Delaware River Port Complex is the largest freshwater port in the world and the largest for steel and paper in North America. The Port is the East Coast’s largest importer of cocoa beans and fruit and as much as seventy percent of the oil shipped to the Atlantic Coast moves through the Estuary.  It is a delicate balance.

I consider the Delaware to be my “home river”.  I have spent countless hours over my lifetime fishing for a diverse mix of Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass, Walleye, migrating Striped Bass and Shad as well as trout, white perch and other miscellaneous fish such as Suckers and Carp. I have shared the river with eagles, osprey, otters, beavers, deer, as well as the more common raccoons, woodchucks and muskrats. When I encounter this mixture of  species from the water, land and air I can only draw the conclusion that the balance is working. However, a shadow is slowly creeping over the valley.

Oil and gas fracking has come to the region offering the promise of energy independence and jobs. Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process that involves tapping into shale and other tight-rock formations by drilling a mile or more below the earth’s surface gradually turning horizontal and continuing several thousand feet more. A single site can accommodate a number of wells. Once the well is drilled, cased and cemented, small perforations are made in the horizontal portion of the pipe through which fracking fluid, a mixture of water, sand and additives is injected at high pressure creating a water jet knife that cuts micro-fractures into the rock. Approximately 5 million gallons of water and 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used per well. The fractures are held open by the grains of sand. The additives help reduce friction thereby reducing the amount of pumping pressure required from the power sources.   Unfortunately, fracking fluid includes known carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.

Fracking is a very effective way to access the significant natural gas deposits in New York and Pennsylvania. However, the potential impact of drilling on the region’s air quality and water supply is still unknown. During this process, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells. There have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water. Recovered waste fluid is left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone. These effects seem to threaten the health of humans as well as fish, birds, and mammals.

Although it is not part of iBass360’s mission to involve itself in the politics of such decisions. as a lifestyle outdoors and fishing brand and as a community of fishermen promoting issues of health awareness, we are concerned with the effects fracking may have on the quality of drinking water and the negative impact it may have on this important smallmouth and striped bass fishery. We encourage each of you to let your local, state and federal representatives know your feelings on this subject.

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