According to the U.S. environmental group American Rivers, the Upper Delaware River in New York State is the most endangered river in the United States. The Upper Delaware is "one of 10 rivers on a list, which are threatened
due to causes such as natural gas drilling, mining and poor flood management."
According to Reuters, "The Upper Delaware topped the list because of the threat of contamination from chemicals used in gas drilling in New York and on the Pennsylvania side of the watershed."
The drilling stems from the presence of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, an abundant source of natural gas that lies under the river's watershed. Campaigners are trying to prevent drilling in the shale, saying that "this clean water source is threatened by natural gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale, where chemicals injected into the ground create untreatable toxic waste water." Many energy companies "have leased thousands of acres of land in the Delaware Watershed in hopes of tapping vast stores of gas in the Marcellus shale rock formation."
Responsibility for providing drilling permits falls with the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate regulator. Environmental groups such as American Rivers (among others) are urging the commission "to deny drilling permits to energy companies until it further investigates whether a drilling technique called 'fracking' poses a threat to the river's water."
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, "is a process
that results in the creation of fractures in rocks." Basically, what happens is, companies inject fluids into the rock at very high pressure and it causes them to crack just like a windshield. However, the fluid that is injected is not 100 percent water — it contains some chemicals that environmental groups are concerned "could contaminate surface or near-surface water supplies." Industry groups dispute the environmentalists claims that fracking has any negative impact on the environment.
One of the major concerns about the Upper Delaware is that it serves as a major drinking water source for around 20 million people in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Each well requires several million gallons of the injection fluid, so if it does indeed contaminate the drinking water source, that could be a lot of contamination, and a potential catastrophe.
The Delaware River Commission "announced last month that it is drafting regulations for gas drilling in shale formations and will not approve any projects until the new rules are established."
To give a little background on the Endangered Rivers list, "American Rivers reviews nominations for the America's Most Endangered Rivers
report from concerned citizens across the country. Rivers are selected based upon a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year on the proposed action, the significance of the threat to human and natural communities and the degree to which the proposed action would exacerbate or alleviate stresses caused by climate change."