Appalachian Basin

Run A River Through It and Delay Until Dead

American Rivers designated the Delaware River as “America’s Most Endangered River” in 2010 but the neighboring Susquehanna River wasn’t even among the top 10.  This year the situation is reversed.  Now it is the Susquehanna that is suddenly the most endangered and the Delaware is nowhere to be found on the list.  What gives? When the Delaware River was designated as the most endangered river in 2010, American Rivers said the following:

The Upper Delaware River provides drinking water to 17 million people across Pennsylvania and New York.  However, this clean water source is threatened by natural gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale, where chemicals injected into the ground create untreatable toxic wastewater.  Until a thorough study of the impacts on drinking water is completed, the Delaware River Basin Commission must refrain from issuing permits that will allow gas drilling in this watershed. In addition, Congress must pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 to help protect all rivers within the Marcellus Shale region.

The Susquehanna River designation announced this week came with the following statement:

One of the longest rivers in America, the Susquehanna River provides over half of the freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay and drinking water to millions of people. Communities and businesses depend on the river for drinking water, commerce, hydropower generation, and recreational boating. Now this resource is at risk of contamination… The threat of contamination is high. As part of the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” process to extract natural gas, massive amounts of water are withdrawn from rivers and streams. The water is then mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped underground to fracture the shale under extreme pressure. A portion of that highly toxic, highly saline, and potentially radioactive wastewater will return to the surface, and requires specialized treatment, but at this time, only a limited number of wastewater treatment facilities have the capacity to handle it… It is the responsibility of these states, along with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), to analyze all of the potential cumulative impacts that could result from natural gas extraction, and ensure proper regulations are in place and capable of being enforced before development is allowed to continue… Pennsylvania, New York, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission need to announce a complete moratorium on water withdrawals and hydraulic fracturing until there are comprehensive regulations in place for natural gas development or they will put public health and drinking water at risk.

The message connected with both designations is the same – stop everything now until we argue some more about whether this is good or bad.  It is the classic strategy of all NIMBY’s and project opponents – delay until dead.  These announcements by American Rivers have nothing whatsoever to do with the specific conditions or threats connected with either river.  Rather, they are simply political announcements intended to garnish press attention and political support for killing off natural gas development everywhere.  The two rivers didn’t reverse positions from a factual perspective.  No, the Delaware was a useful foil last year, but that was then and now a new excuse to preach against gas is required, so we are told to forget about the Delaware and focus on the Susquehanna as this silly shell game is perpetrated on the public.

Not everyone is buying, however.  Here are some comments from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which has actual responsibility for that river (as opposed to self-appointed protectors such as American Rivers):

Susan Obleski, with the Susquehanna River Commission says the river is getting better in both quality and quantity, “The Susquehanna River quality has been improving for decades.”

“We do not see the water use by the gas drilling industry ever having an effect on the Susquehanna in terms of quantity,” said Obleski.

Obleski says she has mixed feelings about the Susquehanna making the list. “It’s never a bad idea to draw attention to a river and the importance of protecting water resources. The bad message is it does a disservice to the truly polluted rivers that should the attention for legitimate cleanup.”

Obleski has it about right.  Real problems are being ignored as American Rivers pursues what can only be described as an anti-development, anti-gas advocacy using gimmickry.  The Susquehanna River, like natural gas development, is getting better all the time.  The supposed threats to it are in the mind of the beholder and not substantiated by the facts.  They are merely speculation.

Yet, it is very profitable speculation.  The organization took in $12.7 million in contributions and grants in 2009, up from $9.0 million in 2008.  It paid out $4.8 million in salaries and had $9.0 in cash, pledges, receivables, securities and other hard assets.  Interestingly, it received $3.7 million in government grants, meaning taxpayers have been essentially paying American Rivers to lobby their government on behalf of its own special interests.  Endangered river designations are a really great gig – that’s what gives.

UPDATE:  Take a look at this morning’ USA Today for EID’s perspective on the Susquehanna listing.


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