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Press Release; Philadelphia City Council Passes Landmark Gas Drilling Resolution Jan. 27th

January 27, 2011

Philadelphia City Council Passes Landmark Gas Drilling Resolution; Urges Delaware River Basin Commission to Maintain Drilling Moratorium, Extend March 16th Public Comment Deadline, and to Hold Hearing in Philadelphia Area

Embargoed Until After Philadelphia City Council Vote January 27, 2011 (est. 11 AM)

Contact:  Iris Marie Bloom c (215) 840-6489

Jerry Silberman c (215) 219-5158

Philadelphia’s City Council passed a bold set of recommendations designed to prevent shale gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed at a full City Council session on Thursday, January 27th.  The bill, introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., makes Philadelphia the first city in the United States to go on record as determined not to buy gas extracted by unconventional gas drilling, commonly called “fracking.” But advocacy groups agreed that the bill’s other recommendations pressing for a continued moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed, and for expanded public participation in the Delaware River Basin Commission comment period, are even more important and urgent.

The citizens group Protecting Our Waters, backed by major environmental groups including Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and PennEnvironment, stated, “While the City of Philadelphia avoiding Marcellus Shale gas purchases is exciting and precedent setting, the bill’s recommendations directed towards the DRBC are time-urgent and extremely important for our watershed.”  Protecting Our Waters’ City Hall campaign organizer Ann Dixon added, “What’s fracked cannot be unfracked.”

The bill directs significant new pressure towards the Delaware River Basin Commission, the four-state entity mandated to protect water quality in the Delaware River watershed, to hold a hearing in the Philadelphia area and extend its March 16th deadline on public comment for gas drilling regulations for this watershed.  By releasing draft regulations for unconventional gas drilling (fracking) in this watershed in December, the Commission signaled that it will not perform any cumulative impact study nor wait for the EPA study of hydrofracturing’s risks to drinking water and air, before moving forward with fracking in the important Delaware River Basin, which provides Philadelphia  with its drinking water.  The environmental community has been “disturbed by the lack of any cumulative impacts study,” according to Gerald Kaufman of Protecting Our Waters.  Family physician Poune Saberi, who testified in favor of the City Council bill last December, said, “Evidence is mounting that gas drilling can impact human health, sometimes severly.” Asthma, reduced pulmonary function, severe nosebleeds, severe headaches, dizziness, blackouts, and pre-cancerous lung lesions are among the health impacts from shale gas drilling cited in studies by Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

In addition to public health impacts from the chemicals, what City Council is concerned about, and what scientists in the U.S. and globally are increasingly focused on, is not just the dangerous “fracking” stage of extraction but rather “the whole fracking enchilada,” a term author, lecturer and filmmaker Sandra Steingraber coined to describe the cradle to grave and cumulative impacts of the entire process of extraction, from deforestation at stage one to toxic waste troubles at the end.

If the public comment period is not expanded and extended, the DRBC will lift its moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin after a brief comment period ending March 16th, paving the way for fracking operations to begin construction upstream from Philadelphia later this year.  The DRBC just announced this week that there will be no public hearings anywhere in southeastern Pennyslvania throughout its “extraordinarily short” public comment period on draft gas drilling regulations, according to Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Protecting Our Waters, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit advocacy group, helped get signatures  from organizations representing 300,000 people in the Delaware River watershed in an organizational sign-on letter sent last week to the Delaware River Basin Commission asking specifically that the public comment period be extended for three more months after March 16th, and that 7 public hearings be held throughout the huge four-state, 13,000 square-mile watershed rather than just three.  That letter was drafted by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and sent by Damascus Citizens for Sustainability.

“We need City Council, Mayor Nutter, and the entire Philadelphia legislative delegation, as well as our federal Representatives and Senators, to fight for the Delaware River watershed right now,” said Protecting Our Waters organizer Ann Dixon.  “This affects everyone,” added Protecting Our Waters organizer Jerry Silberman.  “Unlike the old type of shallow conventional drilling, this new kind of unconventional gas drilling threatens public health and is well known to have negative environmental impacts on air, water, aquatic life, climate, wildlife, and forests, all of which are vital to our quality of life and our economy.”

The full set of recommendations passed by City Council on Thursday, January 27th, includes strong language:  “Council hereby establishes its moral responsibility to actively prevent future pollution and ecological destruction rather than waiting until it occurs and then attempting to undo the damage.”  Embracing the precautionary principle, City Council calls for a moratorium on drilling for gas “until both the EPA hydraulic fracturing risks study and the cumulative impacts  study specific to the Delaware River Basin are completed.”

Once these scientific studies are assessed and debated, Thursday’s resolution asserts: “The City of Philadelphia will determine whether it is advisable to call for the entire Delaware River Basin to be kept off limits to [fracking], due to the potential for catastrophic risk [and] potential costs . . . .”


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