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Fracking Earns Susquehanna River Number One Spot on Most Endangered List

May 18, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Susquehanna River, which provides drinking water for six million people  in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states,  is at risk because of hydraulic fracturing, according to a new report.  The report, from the group American Rivers, says hydraulic fracturing or fracking, has made the Susquehanna the most endangered river in the U.S.

The same study also found that fracking is jeopardizing  the Hoback River in western Wyoming, which American Rivers says ranks as the nation’s seventh most endangered river.

American Rivers has been issuing the "America’s Most Endangered Rivers" report for 26 years. According to the group, the report is not a ranking of the “worst” or most polluted rivers, but rather it lists rivers that are at a crossroads, whose fates will be determined in the coming year. 

The Susquehanna, one of the longest rivers in the nation, flows over the Marcellus Shale region, a rock formation underlying large parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.   It is believed that the Marcellus shale contains enough natural gas to meet U.S. needs for at least decade. 

But as American River points out, fracking requires that  massive amounts of water be withdrawn from rivers and streams, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped underground to fracture the shale under extreme pressure.  There are currently limited facilities for treating the highly toxic wastewater that results from the extraction process and few government regulations to prevent it from seeping into rivers like the Susquehanna,  the group said.

"Fracking poses one of the greatest risks our nation's rivers have faced in decades," says Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president of conservation at American Rivers, said in a statement. "We are taking a major gamble on the clean drinking water for millions of Americans."

American River is calling on New York, Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to impose fracking moratoriums until regulations are put in place to ensure the Susquehanna River is protected.

While New York has enacted a fracking moratorium while it studies its environmental impact, fracking is booming in Pennsylvania.   Unfortunately, the state has experienced a number of water contamination incidents since fracking took off there. In fact, only yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hit Chesapeake Energy with a record fine after problems with the casing on some of its gas wells caused methane gas to migrate and contaminate drinking water wells in Bradford County.  And just last month, a blowout at another Chesapeake  site in Bradford County spilled fracking fluid into a tributary of the Susquehanna.

Wyoming’s  Hoback River system provides clean drinking water for local communities and vital habitat for dozens of species, including large herds of elk, mule deer and pronghorn prized by hunters.  According to American Rivers, Plains Exploration and Production (PXP), a Houston-based energy company,  plans to start  fracking near the Hoback's headwaters.  

"Energy development is a fact of life in Wyoming, but some places are just too special to drill and should be left as they are,” said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for American Rivers said in a statement. “The upper Hoback is sacred ground for hunters, anglers, boaters and hikers, and local residents have made it clear they want it stay that way."

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