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Delaware Riverkeeper Maya K. van Rossum Discusses Fracking, Clean Waters & More.
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Delaware Riverkeeper Maya K. van Rossum Discusses Fracking, Clean Waters & More.

Maya van Rossum We love getting to know local, green women that are making a difference like Julie Slavet, Katherine Gajewski & Sandy Bauers. Today we get to know another woman, defending our waters for the future generations.

Maya K. van Rossum is Delaware Riverkeeper of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an organization with over 14,000 members and active volunteers. Maya has worked for the DRN for almost 20 years and testifies before state and national governing bodies to protect the river from threats including fracking, degradation, dumping, pollution and detrimental construction. Some of her accomplishments include:

  • Securing a moratorium on shale gas development and fracking in the Delaware River watershed that still holds today.
  • Led the advocacy and brought the legal action that prevented the dumping of 1200 tons of VX nerve agent waste into the Delaware River by the U.S. Army.
  • Preventing construction of a 56-foot-high hazard flood control dam across the Neshaminy Creek and securing a now nationally recognized nonstructural approach to flood damage reduction.
  • Lead plaintiff in the litigation that secured implementation of a key provision of the Clean Water Act in both PA and DE – a legal strategy copied by others across the country.
  • The preservation of Petty’s Island to protect the river and wildlife including nesting bald eagles

We asked Maya about being the Riverkeeper, shale gas and threats to Philadelphia.

Green Philly Blog: What exactly does a Delaware Riverkeeper do?

Maya K. van Rossum: Being the Delaware Riverkeeper is about ensuring the Delaware River and all its tributaries and dependent communities have a voice at the decision-making table. But more than that, a high priority stature that ensures all decisions made seek to honor and protect the water resources that are fundamental to supporting all of our lives.  Clean and abundant water supplies for our communities and the River itself should not be a privilege, it is a right, and my job as the Delaware Riverkeeper is to ensure that right is protected.

I am indeed privileged to bear the title of the Delaware Riverkeeper, but as we all know, it takes more than one person to protect a River, a watershed, and all the communities they support. And so I have a wonderful staff of 20.

Maya van Rossum: Fracking & Delaware River Watershed

Green Philly Blog: How is Philadelphia affected by Fracking?

Maya K. van Rossum Delaware RiverkeeperMaya K. van Rossum: There are many ways Philadelphia is impacted by the development of shale gas – the volume and quality of the drinking water and air could be impacted. The future threat of increasing flooding, storms and drought brought on by climate change are a very real concern for Philadelphians.  

Getting gas out of shale is done by fracking, requiring an average of 5 million gallons of water for each well — poisoned with an unknown slurry of dangerous chemicals and forced into the earth to fracture the rock that holds the gas.  

The liquid waste resulting is extremely dangerous and difficult to dispose of — currently an injection underground but that is causing seismic events in some geologic formations.  Waste solids are getting buried or delivered to landfills and creating increasing concerns — including that the waste in many instances is radioactive, with the industry is constantly looking for repositories for its never-ending waste stream.

Over 7 1/2 million people live in Philadelphia and so get their water from the Delaware River system.  If fracking are allowed in this watershed, it could mean 32,000 to 64,000 wells, with totals up to 160 to 320 billion gallons of water taken and toxified.  With a limited water supply — locking it away under ground or contaminating it so badly that it is unusable for humans or animals in anyway other than as waste is a major threat.

Philadelphia’s location as a major port and transportation hub and its existing petroleum industry infrastructure means that the industry is already setting up shop to process natural gas liquids, shale oil, and other extraction products from the drilling boom.  Large terminals store and transfer these products and extensive petroleum pipeline systems deliver them far and wide.  If some Philadelphia City Council members prevail, the proposed sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works will include a proposal for a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export refinery. Even if Philadelphia does not become home to an LNG facility, the Delaware River and Bay are under constant conversation for such facilities,presenting significant safety, public health, security, environmental and economic problems.  

Science is demonstrating that the amount of methane released during the drilling process and the movement of the gas through pipelines is as much as 9% or higher – being lost to the atmosphere.  Scientists are increasingly recognizing that the development of shale gas is a contributor to climate change.

While the legal work and advocacy my organization began has resulted in a special designation for the River that so far has supported a moratorium on its protection, it does not protect us from the hundreds of miles of pipelines and associated compressors that delivery of shale gas demands.  

And so for those of us that enjoy the rivers, streams, and open spaces of our region we are quickly losing their health and beauty to the pipeline companies which cut through any forest, stream, wetland or back yard they find in their way.

Green Philly Blog: Why  should Philadelphians care about the waterways?

Maya K. van Rossum: We all need to care. But Philadelphians in particular should care because the City and environs is a target of the gas industry, as discussed above.

While drilling may not yet be happening in the areas around Philadelphia, the ramifications of our failing as a country to invest in sustainable energy rather than more polluting fossil fuels affects us all. The quality of our air, water, and food are affected but the pollution and mass consumption of water that drilling requires, and climate change is threatening all generations to come if we cannot find a better path.  The state and national parks we all have invested in protecting are being devastated by drilling.  And the increase in catastrophic pollution spills, flooding, property damage, and harm to public health and safety from drilling is coming at the expense of every resident and tax payer whether it be directly or indirectly.  

There are other people whose lives are being devastated where the drilling is now happening, and so we need to care about them, because one day, if Governor Corbett has his way and local governments have no say about where drilling is allowed to take place — even allowing it as close as 300 feet to a home, play ground, school or hospital — we may need all of those people to care about us and come to our rescue from the impacts of drilling.

Drilling is not a sustainable source of energy or jobs.  And the really sad thing is that there are multiple studies documenting that sustainable energy is here and now and could be used to fuel this country and world in just decades if we simply invest in it. The choice is not drilling and fracking or shivering cold and in the dark – the choice is drilling and fracking with all of its toxic pollution and climate changing devastation or clean energy from the sun, wind and earth that gives us a safe, healthy and bright future for all.  

Green Philly Blog: How secure is the DE watershed?

Maya K. van Rossum: 20 years ago, my organization filed a legal petition that secured a special layer of protection for the Delaware River called special protection waters.  This designation became the basis of a moratorium put in place in our watershed against drilling and fracking until a legal body called the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) votes to pass regulations that would dictate how drilling and fracking can happen in our region.  So far the stalemate between the five voting members of the DRBC – the four governors and an Army Corps of Engineers colonel representing the President – has prevented the vote that could pass those regulations, lifting the drilling moratorium.  

But, without vigilant action and voices from our watershed community that meeting could be scheduled and that vote taken at any time.  And of course the issues of waste disposal, pipelines, gas processing, climate change, and the constant pressure to drill here leaves us perpetually vulnerable and at the mercy of the drillers even today.

What Philadelphians Can Do to Protect Our Water

Green Philly Blog: What are 3 easy things Philadelphians can do to help keep their water supply safe?

Maya K. van Rossum: Here are 3 things…

  1. We have to petition to keep the DRBC from voting to remove the moratorium.
  2. Tell our state and federal government to vote to halt ongoing fracking, instead supporting sustainable and and efficient energy options.
  3. Tell the Philadelphia City Council to vote against the creation of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export facilities to be shipped overseas and take a stand against the influx of the new shale gas-related industries.  It’s important to prevent Philadelphia from becoming a hub for natural gas processing and waste dumping – that will not only continue to harm the communities where it happens – but will bring the pollution it causes here as well.

Want more Maya? Check her out on YouTube and the Huffington Post.

Thanks to Maya for talking with us! Readers, what would you ask Maya?

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Julie Hancher
Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher
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