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Protecting our Drinking Water: The Philadelphia Water Department and the Marcellus Shale

May 31, 2011

Philadelphia Water DepartmentEarlier this month, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) distributed the annual Drinking Water Quality Report to their customers.  The report summarizes the results of the daily monitoring of water quality conducted throughout 2010 and provides an explanation of the water treatment process. Along with additional information about the services they provide, the PWD also uses the report as an opportunity to highlight their stewardship of the Delaware River Watershed.

Early on in the publication in a section entitled “Safeguarding the water you drink,” the PWD states:

Today, the City enjoys watersheds that are cleaner and healthier than they have been in well over a century. Although we have seen a dramatic improvement in the water quality of the City’s two major rivers since the passage of the Federal Clean Water Act in the early 1970s, there is still more work that needs to be done to protect our drinking water sources from pollution.

Yet, it isn’t until towards the end of the report, in the “Marcellus Shale” section, that the PWD addresses the specific threat of natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin:

Natural gas drilling — because it is a new technology in the Delaware River Basin with still evolving regulations around all aspects of water quality protection — has our full attention. At this point in time, we believe that the current regulatory framework, if enforced, is adequate to protect our water supply from immediate threats.

Even so, the PWD does recognize that “the long-term impacts from drilling on the water quality of the Delaware Basin are not well understood.”

Delaware River Basin Map

Map Courtesy of the Delaware River Basin Commission's Map Collection.

They continue on to explain that they have been “watching, monitoring and evaluating upstream activities” and have been in discussion with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) concerning Marcellus Shale drilling as it relates to Philadelphia’s water supply.

In March 2011, Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia’s Water Commissioner, sent the DRBC a letter on behalf of the PWD during the public comments period that the DRBC held in regards to the regulation of natural gas development in the Delaware River Basin. Neukrug and the PWD proposed four key points in the recommendations they provided for the DRBC’s draft of natural gas development regulations:

  1. “Increase Groundwater and Surface Water Monitoring Requirements”
  2. “Do Not Allow Discharges of Treated Natural Gas Wastewater Upstream of Philadelphia’s intakes on the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers”
  3. “Require a Full Reforestation of Lands Cleared to Accommodate Drilling”
  4. “Expand Land Application Prohibitions”

The letter also suggests additional recommendations for addressing the potential impacts of natural gas drilling on Philadelphia’s drinking water supply. Neukug ends with a request for more information about the DRBC’s draft regulations to help clarify the effect they will have.

To read the official PWD Position Paper on Marcellus Shale click here.

One Comment
  1. eileen permalink
    May 31, 2011 2:49 pm

    Thanks for writing this article. I’m glad PWD is taking a look at things. I like their recommendations. It would be great if they could just stop any more drilling. It’s such a farce that we “need” to go after natural gas.

    Let’s put our “energy” into more renewable resources. In the Inquirer today, an op-ed piece was about how as people try to turn to alternative energy sources, the incentives are quickly fading away. Hmm…

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