PHILADELPHIA — Threats ranging from global warming to natural gas drilling could threaten the water quality in the Delaware River, scientists and environmental advocates said Thursday.
The state of the river got in-depth attention Thursday at a forum held by the federal Environmental Protection Agency with meetings at six locations in all four states along the river.
Many of the presentations focused on the dangers of climate change, which could cause the salt line to shift upriver and threaten drinking water supplies in Philadelphia or bring additional water-borne diseases to the region.
Delaware River Basin Commission executive director Carol Collier called drilling for natural gas "the huge gorilla" among things that could harm the river. The concern is that chemicals used to extract gas from deep underground in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," could contaminate the drinking water supply.
A massive underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from Tennessee to New York and contains natural gas, is under about one-third of the land in the Delaware basin. It's also under all the headwaters of the most pristine parts of the river. There, the commission, which monitors water quality in area around the river, is trying to maintain current water quality.
Collier's agency is considering rules on how to regulate drilling in areas near the Delaware. Collier said Thursday that September is the earliest commissioners would vote on proposed regulations.
Drilling companies say their process is safe. They and many northeast Pennsylvania landowners also say the proposed regulations would be stifling for business in an area that could use a boost.
Environmental groups worry the regulations would be too permissive.
The public can comment on the proposed regulations until April 15.
Environmentalists have been pushing the DRBC to wait until there's a full EPA study on the impacts of fracking in the region before issuing rules.
Collier said that decision will be made by her commission, which includes the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and a federal representative. But, she said, the final EPA report isn't expected to be released for another three years.