The Obama Administration declined a request to use its veto power to temporarily halt gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin, which supplies half of New York City’s water. Five percent of this country’s water supply, providing drinking, cleaning, and agricultural water to fifteen to seventeen million people, comes from the Delaware River, recently declared the 2010 “most endangered river” in the U.S. by American Rivers.

Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) asked the federal government to use its deciding vote to issue a temporary ban, pending a study of how “fracking” will impact the water upon which major populations rely. Fracking is a gas drilling process that appropriates public water and injects high volumes of undisclosed and unregulated toxic chemicals into the earth in order to mine gas. As depicted in the film, Gasland, and confirmed by many news reports, this process has contaminated water supplies throughout the U.S.

Scientific research indicates that certain chemicals in large concentration in fracking fluid are carcinogens and neurotoxins that act on the hormones and brain even in extremely low concentrations.

“We simply cannot continue to assume that very low levels of harmful chemicals are safe,” says the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), a scientific research group founded by environmental health analyst Dr. Theo Colborn, in a statement issued this week. Their analysis of fracking chemicals and recent research indicates that chemicals act upon humans “in parts-per-billion or even parts-per-trillion, more comparable to what we encounter every day… to introduce a whole new set of damaging effects (including effects on the) central nervous system that could result in autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases; reproductive system effects such as infertility, male birth defects, endometriosis, cancers of the breast, prostate and testicles; and metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.”

Last week, the Obama Administration declined Rep. Hinchey’s request and instead used its deciding vote on the Delaware River Basin Committee (DRBC) to green-light immediate drilling of gas wells.

According to the New York Times, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a gas producer’s promotional group, saluted the decision, critiquing Hinchey for “trying to use a federal agency to direct the actions of a regional water board for the purposes of preventing the development of natural gas in a state where he doesn’t even live. Next … he’ll be ordering the Army Corps to build levees around our well sites in Wyoming.”

Congressman Hinchey, a New York resident, represents constituents in New York, a state that has been a voting member of the Delaware River Basin Commission since its founding, due to the fact that millions of New York urban and rural residents are affected by DRBC decisions like this one. Energy in Depth is a Washington, D.C. based group whose media activities support gas drilling “from Southern Texas to northern Michigan,” according to a press release. This industry group is focused on gas, and gas wells rather than population impacts.

Speaking for the federal government, Brig. Gen. Peter “Duke” DeLuca, commander of the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineer, who serves on the DRBC, expressed concern about waiting for the study because “it could be several years before the final results of the study are known.” In a letter to Rep. Hinchey, General DeLuca saw his task on the Commission, as supporting “the economic needs of the region and our nation’s need to secure energy reserves while protecting the environment.”

However, ever since President John F. Kennedy founded the Commission in 1961, its actual mission as stated in its Compact is to “conserve and protect the water basin or any existing or future water supply source.” Since the Delaware is the longest un-dammed river east of the Mississipi, four states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) and their populations are affected by activities in the river basin. The Commission was founded to coordinate the decision-making and planning process, because “water resources planning .. has often required fifteen to twenty years from the conception to the completion..”

Now that the Commission has acceded to gas drillers’ requests, and as General DeLuca states can’t wait a year or two to assess the impact of gas drilling on regional water supplies, there’s one outstanding question:

How many decades will it take to develop Plan B– an alternative water supply for New York City and other DRBC regions after brain-damaging chemicals from fracking have infiltrated the unfiltered water supply. Fifteen years? Twenty years? Since the Commission is charged with long-range planning to provide water to its extended population, the Commission may already be behind the eightball.

Learn more in a radio interview with environmental health analyst Dr. Theo Colborn, TEDX’s founder.

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