Fracking Rules for Delaware River Basin to Be Released

Hydraulic fracturing rules for the Delaware River Basin will be unveiled today. The new gas drilling rules will then be subject to public comment and several public hearings before the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) can vote to adopt them.

The Delaware River Basin, which encompasses parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, supplies water to several large East Coast cities, including Philadelphia and New York City. The DRBC was created in 1961 to address regional water conflicts, and oversees water quality and quantity issues in the 13,539-square-mile basin. The commission’s voting members include the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Much of the basin sets atop the natural gas rich Marcellus shale, which has been at the center of a drilling boom the past several years. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals used in that fracking fluid could contaminate water supplies near drilling sites, and already, such drilling is suspected in several instances of water contamination around the country, including Pennsylvania. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the industry is not required to disclose the chemicals – some of which are known to be hazardous – that make up their fracking fluids.

According to the Allentown Morning Call, DRBC officials have held that they have the authority to intervene in drilling regulations because the process involves taking so much water out of its normal course. Drilling permits in the basin have been on hold while the new rules were being formulated.

The new fracking rules for the Delaware River Basin are being released today, despite calls from the governors of New York and New Jersey to slow down or stop the process, the Morning Call said. Environmentalists have urged the agency to slow or halt its rule-making process, saying that drilling is unsafe.

Property owners in the basin, however, have voiced concerns that the DRBC is overstepping its authority.

According to a report in the Philadelphia Weekly Press, the DRBC plans to release the rules without an impact study, even though its own scientific experts are concerned that “wells drilled 7,000 to 8,000 feet to reach the Marcellus formation create pathways through which naturally-occurring contaminants can potentially migrate into ground and surface water.” This will be followed by only a brief 45 or 60-day public comment period (over the holiday period and during January), with only one public meeting.

With this timeline, the DRBC could begin approving permits for fracking as early as February.

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