It’s Tuesday, December 13, and regulators want to keep fracking wastewater out of the Delaware River Basin.

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A panel of regulators voted recently to prohibit wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, from being discharged into the lands and water of the Delaware River Basin, an important watershed and source of drinking water for more than 13 million people on the East Coast.

The 4-0 decision from the Delaware River Basin Commission — composed of representatives from the four states that share the basin, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania — is intended to protect public health and keep the basin’s ecosystems safe from pollution. A fifth member of the commission representing the federal government abstained from the vote.

Roughly 330 miles long, the Delaware River is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi River. In addition to providing critical habitat for horseshoe crabs, bald eagles, trout, and other wildlife, it’s also a major source of drinking water for Philadelphia and New York City, as well as many other communities across the mid-Atlantic.

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The Delaware River Basin Commission banned hydraulic fracturing throughout the watershed in February 2021 over concerns that the process — which uses pressurized water and chemicals to force oil and gas out of the ground — would pose a hazard to people and aquatic life. The new rule places more restrictions on fracking operations outside the watershed’s boundaries, preventing companies from using the basin as a wastewater dumping ground. A study published earlier this year found an array of hazardous substances in fracking wastewater, including heavy metals, pesticides, and cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the nonprofit Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the new rule would help limit fracking-related pollution but argued  that it didn’t go far enough. The Delaware River Basin Commission left in place “loopholes that will be highly dangerous to our communities and ecosystems,” she told me. Companies will still be able to bring fracking wastewater into the basin for treatment, storage, processing, and reuse, which Carluccio said could result in chemical spills or toxic air pollution, the latter of which isn’t regulated by the commission.

Carluccio said her coalition will continue to fight for “full protection” from fracking by trying to close those loopholes. To prevent the basin’s resources from being used up, she also urged regulators to prohibit fracking companies that operate outside the region from withdrawing the Delaware River’s water for their operations.

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