Hydraulic Fracturing Rules Proposed by Delaware River Basin Commission

A draft of hydraulic fracturing regulations has been released by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The draft regulations are a first step to allowing hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in the environmentally-sensitive Delaware River Basin, part of which sets atop the natural-gas rich Marcellus shale.

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.

The DRBC estimates that there could one day be as many as 10,000 wells in the Delaware River Basin. Proponents of fracking in the Delaware River Basin argue it will bring much-need jobs and economic activity to the area. But those opposed are worried the drilling will foul vital water supplies.

According to a report on PhillyBurbs.com, the DRBC’s draft fracking regulations govern a range of drilling activities, including water withdrawals, well pad placement and wastewater disposal, and require drilling companies to post a bond of $125,000 per well to cover the plugging and restoration of abandoned wells and the remediation of any pollution.

The proposed rules focus on well siting, water withdrawal and wastewater disposal, PhillyBurbs said. Well fracturing – and other elements of well design, construction and operation – would remain largely the responsibility of state regulators.

The draft regulations have many opponents, including the governor of New York and various environmental groups. Opponents wanted a cumulative impact study to f be completed before rules were drafted and drilling begins.

“DRBC appears intent on going forward with a regulatory program that would not have the advantage of the full investigations and public deliberations taking place in New York,” Gov. David Paterson wrote in a letter this week to the commission’s executive director, according to The New York Times.

“Your proposed program, covering only a very small portion of New York State, could well conflict with the technical and regulatory protocols ultimately adopted in New York, causing confusion, duplication, redundant regulatory fee assessments, differing regulations in different locations and possible mismanagement,” the letter said.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking, but that could be lifted at any time. Last month, the New York State Assembly approved a bill that would impose a gas drilling moratorium in the state until May 15, 2011.

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. 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.

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