Opposition Forces Delaware River Basin Commission to Postpone Fracking Vote

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has put off today’s scheduled vote on proposed regulations that could open the vital watershed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. According to an Associated Press report, the DRBC announced the postponement Friday, after two members of the Commission voiced their opposition to proposed regulations.

The Delaware River Basin, much of which sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale, encompasses parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey and provides drinking water to 17 million people on the East Coast. It covers 58 percent of the land area of New York City’s watershed west of the Hudson River, and the city has spent almost $1.5 billion to protect the drinking water it obtains from the watershed.

The DRBC posted the proposed regulations on its website last month. If they are ever adopted, the rules would permit only 300 wells to be drilled in the Delaware River Basin until a reassessment is done after 18 months. The regulations also call for more water monitoring, more water-use restrictions, and more money to be set aside for remediation. The 100-plus page document was a revision of the draft released by the Commission last year, which had garnered more than 69,000 public comments.

Several counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania that sit within the basin are believed to have large natural-gas reserves. The New Jersey Sierra Club reported that there are 10,000 leases on hold in the basin that could move forward if the regulations are adopted, according to the Associated Press. The National Park Service estimates 35,000 wells eventually could be constructed.

On Friday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell said he world vote no on the proposed rules. New York, which also sits on the Commission, had earlier announced a no vote. Two other states with seats on the DRBC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had not yet announced how they would vote, but according to the Associated Press, it was expected that they would vote in favor of the proposed regulations. That would have left the Commission’s fifth member, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to break a tie. Three votes were needed for passage, but the DRBC was hoping for a unanimous vote.

Opponents of fracking quickly praised the postponement, and claimed a victory.

“Governor Markell has listened to the will of the people, to the science and to the tremendous environmental and community harm being caused by gas drilling where it is happening. The issue of shale gas drilling has finally moved out of the political arena and is now being treated as an issue of genuine public policy concern,” said Maya van Rossum, of the group Delaware Riverkeeper. “The residents of this region stood firm and demanded protection from the ravages of gas drilling; forcing the politicians to listen or risk their political ambitions.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is suing the DRBC to prevent fracking in the basin until a full environmental review is conducted, also had high praise for the postponement.

“This delay further demonstrates that the proposed regulations for fracking in the Delaware River Basin are not ready to see the light of day. Without a full, fair and open review of the potential risks of fracking in the Basin, the public will continue to question the federal government’s ability to protect public health and environment,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

“I also commend Delaware Governor Markell for stating that Delaware would vote ‘no’ on the current regulations. His position echoes my longstanding position: the federal government must follow both common sense and the law, and conduct a full study of fracking in the Basin before proceeding with regulations,” the statement continued.

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