The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on Wednesday, September 13, adopted a resolution, which if it passes by November 30 following public input, will ban natural gas drilling and associated development.
WEST TRENTON, N.J. – The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on Wednesday, September 13, adopted a resolution, which if it passes by November 30 following public input, will ban natural gas drilling and associated development.
The ban would effectively be limited to The four Pennsylvania counties of the Poconos, Wayne Pike, Monroe and Carbon counties, was well as portions of adjacent PA counties where the gas is found and is currently not under a prohibition by DRBC or any other agency.
The DRBC announced in a press release that this resolution -- which was approved by a vote of three in favor (Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania), one opposed (federal government), and one abstaining (New Jersey) -- is procedural and initiates a new phase in the rulemaking process.
The commissioners did not adopt natural gas development regulations at the Sept. 13 meeting, the DRBC stressed.
A ban put in place by the DRBC would replace a de facto moratorium on gas drilling activities in place since 2010. Gas drilling has been on hold in the Delaware River basin region, pending a decision on regulations by the DRBC.
Within the four-state region of the Delaware River watershed comprising the DRBC’s jurisdiction, the Marcellus Shale Formation containing the natural gas is limited to the Poconos and nearby counties to the west in Pennsylvania, and in southern New York. A statewide ban, however, was put in place by the State of New York in May 2011.
The moratorium has been hailed by environmentalists concerned about potential harm from hydraulic fracking on the water table. Land owners who leased acreage to drilling companies, particularly in Wayne County, have opposed the moratorium.
The resolution was announced on Monday, September 11, as being on the agenda for its quarterly business meeting two days later in Newtown, Pa.
Thomas Shepstone, who owns Shepstone Management Company, Honesdale, PA, has been a steadfast proponent of natural gas development in the region. He commented concerning the DRBC’s proposed resolution:
“The DRBC is catering to the interests of extraordinarily wealthy New Yorkers and Philadelphians who want to make a wilderness of the Upper Delaware region. Moreover, the DRBC is largely the same parties as the SRBC [Susquehanna River Basin Commission] where a decade of horizontal drilling and and hydraulic fracturing has had produced no measurable decline in stream quality. Governor Wolf, the legislature and the residents of Harrisburg drink that water yet the DRBC would have us believe fracking would somehow threaten New York and Philadelphia drinking water. It’s obvious the Governor thinks New Yorkers are more important than Pennsylvanians when it comes to drinking water and New York and Philadelphia special interests should enjoy a higher priority than those of Wayne County residents. He’s told us our working families can go pound salt as he joins other DRBC members in trying to do an end run around a recent lawsuit they’re likely to lose.”
Jeff Skelding, Executive Director, Friends of the Upper Delaware (FUDR), based in Hancock, NY, had a different view.
"This is one of those complex issues where all sides deserve respect.” Skelding said. “Yet, ultimately, FUDR has to come down on the side that we think is most protective of communities, people, and the Upper Delaware River. We are not convinced that the cumulative economic and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing have been studied thoroughly enough. Therefore, we do not have enough information to confirm that it is a safe enough activity for an area that is increasingly reliant on the economic value of the river for its future prosperity."
PA Governor Tom Wolf came out in support of DRBC’s action. PA Senator Lisa Baker (R-20th) and PA Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R- Wayne/Susquehanna) each responded, denouncing the Governor’s stand. [Remarks from Senator Baker and Rep. Fritz are printed in Saturday’s print edition of The News Eagle.]
A group of landowners in Wayne County filed a federal lawsuit against the DRBC in May 2016, on the argument that the agency does not have the authority to regulate gas drilling. The DRBC has declined comment on the pending litigation.
More than 10,000 Marcellus wells have been drilled in other areas of Pennsylvania in the last 10 years, as close as Susquehanna County.
At the DRBC business meeting on May 5, 2010, the DRBC commissioners unanimously directed DRBC staff to develop draft regulations on well pads in the shales for notice and comment remaking. On December 8, 2010, the Commission passed a resolution postponing the decision in order to review natural gas exploratory well activities in shale formations until either final gas regulations were formed or an application was submitted.
Natural gas development regulations were published the next day, and the comment period closed on April 15, 2011. Nearly 69,000 comments were submitted, and revised draft natural gas regulations were issued November 8th of that year. Since the comment period closed, the DRBC has continued to receive comments and information from many stakeholders with diverse views about developing natural gas in the basin.
The DRBC has also closely followed the developing scientific literature on the impacts of natural has development on water resources.
What comes next
The DRBC supplied the following information.
As directed by the approved resolution, the revised draft rules to be published no later than Nov. 30 will include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing within the Delaware River Basin.
The revised draft regulations will also include provisions to ensure the safe and protective storage, treatment, disposal or discharge of hydraulic fracturing-related wastewater where permitted and provide for the regulation of inter-basin transfers of water and wastewater for purposes of natural gas development where permitted.
Following publication of the revised draft regulations, the public input process will include one or more hearings and ample opportunity for written comments. No action on the revised draft rules will be taken by the commission until the public comment process is completed. The commissioners will consider changes to the revised draft regulations that may be appropriate based on the comments received.
Details about the public hearing(s) and instructions for submitting written comments will be included in the notice of proposed rule-making to be published no later than Nov. 30.
Written or oral comments received before the draft rules are published and the comment period officially opens will not be included in the rule-making record.
For more information
Interested persons are invited to regularly check the commission’s web site at www.drbc.net and follow DRBC on Twitter (@DRBC1961) for information as it becomes available.
The procedural resolution approved Sept. 13 and an updated set of frequently asked questions (FAQs), along with additional background information, can be viewed at www.nj.gov/drbc/programs/natural/.
The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile Delaware River Basin without regard to political boundaries. The five commission members are the governors of the basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government.