Condemned by those who defend rights to drill for gas and praised by others not assured the environment would be safe, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on November 30 issued their expected revised draft regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

WEST TRENTON, N.J. - Condemned by those who defend rights to drill for gas and praised by others not assured the environment would be safe, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) on November 30 issued their expected revised draft regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

If passed, the policy of the DRBC would effectively ban natural gas drilling  and related operations from occurring in Wayne and Pike counties.

Before it can be finally approved, however, a public comment period is in effect. The DRBC, based in West Trenton, has announced that comments are being taken online, and have arranged four public hearings in January.

Two of these hearings are scheduled in Wayne County on Tuesday, January 23, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The next two hearings are planned in Philadelphia on Thursday, January 25.

Advanced registration is required in order to attend these hearings. The deadline to register is 5 p.m., Dec. 31, 2017.

Since the issue affects only that part of the Delaware River drainage area which is over the gas-rich Marcellus Shale and in Pennsylvania, it was not clear why the second day of hearings was set in Philadelphia.

The Marcellus Shale, deep underground, exists only beneath the counties of the Poconos- Wayne, Pike, Monroe and Carbon- within the Delaware River basin on this side of the river.

Although the Marcellus Shale extends beneath New York State counties with the basin, the State of New York has prohibited hydraulic fracturing, a method used by the gas industry to extract the gas.

Intent of the plan

DRBC posted on its web site revised draft amendments to its regulations and comprehensive plan. According to trees DRBC, they are designed to better provide for the planning, conservation, utilization, development, management and control of the basin’s water resources in connection with the hydraulic fracturing of shale and other hydrocarbon bearing formations.

The revised draft rules prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in hydrocarbon bearing rock formations within the Delaware River Basin. 

As further stated in their press release, the revised draft rules reinforce commission policies to discourage importation of wastewater and exportation of water, and include rules to address the inter-basin transfer of water and wastewater related to hydraulic fracturing. The draft rules also include provisions for ensuring that the treatment and disposal of produced water from hydraulic fracturing does not impair or conflict with the preservation of the waters of the basin for uses in accordance with the DRBC comprehensive plan.

Hearing details

The public hearings will take place as follows:

Jan. 23, 2018, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Ladore Camp, Retreat and Conference Center’s Performing Arts and Recreation Center (PARC) Pavilion, 287 Owego Turnpike, Waymart, Pa. Register to attend at: http://bit.ly/2ApxOB1 Jan. 23, 2018, 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Ladore Camp, Retreat and Conference Center’s Performing Arts and Recreation Center (PARC) Pavilion, 287 Owego Turnpike, Waymart, Pa. Register to attend at: http://bit.ly/2AgHtsV Jan. 25, 2018, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Philadelphia Airport, 4509 Island Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. Register to attend at: http://bit.ly/2AIPh7P an. 25, 2018, 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Philadelphia Airport, 4509 Island Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. Register to attend at: http://bit.ly/2ip6Pyn

Registration to attend a public hearing is required. Advanced registration will remain open until 5 p.m., Dec. 31, 2017. Shortly after that date, those who have registered to attend will be afforded an opportunity to request speaking time. Elected government officials and their staff will have the opportunity to identify themselves when registering.

Online comments   

The commission also invites written comment on the draft regulations. Written comments will receive the same consideration as oral comments, and may be submitted until 5 p.m., Feb. 28, 2018.

Written comments and attachments should be submitted through the commission’s online comments webpage at http://dockets.drbc.commentinput.com/. Written comments will not be accepted through other methods, such as email, fax or hand delivery, unless an express exception has been granted based on lack of access to the web-based system. Requests for exceptions may be addressed to: Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, West Trenton, NJ 08628.

Legislators took stand

Local legislators took a swift stand in favor of landowners’ rights when the DRBC announced their intention to replace the de facto moratorium on drilling, with a permanent ban. Hosted by Reps. Jonathan Fritz (R-111) and Mike Peifer (R-139), a Pennsylvania House of Representatives Republican Policy Committee Hearing was held October 31t to take testimony on the matter.

The hearing was held at the conference center at Camp Ladore, the same site of the DRBC’s scheduled Wayne County hearings.

Senator Lisa Baker has also spoken out in favor of landowners’ rights in this matter.

The committee heard testimonies from two panels of local officials and business representatives regarding the drilling issue in Wayne and Pike counties, and was reported in two parts in The Wayne Independent by reporter David Mazzenga.

Excerpts from those reports follow:

Chamber of the Northern Poconos Executive Director, Debbie Gillette, stated her primary concern was for the landowners in the region, many of whom are members of the Chamber. She noted a disconnect and unfair treatment of residents and business owners in the Delaware River Basin who would not be able to benefit from the same economic advantages as those in the Susquehanna River Basin within which natural gas drilling is already permitted.

Ned Lang from the Upper Delaware River Basin Citizen stated “The hypocrisy of the activity of the DRBC is astounding because three of the five state delegates also sit on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission which has allowed for the exploration of natural gas for over a decade.”

Pennsylvania Septage Management Association Vince Phillips sought to show the limits of DRBC power to make such a declaration.

Jim Barbour from the Susquehanna County Farm Bureau,showcased the economic benefits of natural gas drilling in the Susquehanna River Basin. “On a lot of levels, agriculture has improved in our area because of the gas industry,” he said. “Also, our infrastructure has changed drastically. We have the best roads now that we have ever had because the gas industry fixes, rebuilds and takes care of our roads.”

Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith was vehement in his testimony. Citing his own experiences as a farmer in Wayne County, Smith explained that environmental protection is vital to agricultural operations and not something farmers would sacrifice.

He mentioned that hard work has garnered a high-quality label for the water in the basin, which along with it has introduced extra regulatory practices to maintain that degree.

Earlier in October, the state House of Representatives passed a resolution, sponsored by Rep. Fritz urging the DRBC against considering implementation of the ban.

The bill recommends the  DRBC follow in the footsteps of the [Susquehanna] SRBC as a water management agency and it should “abandon any proposed plans to regulate natural gas drilling beyond the already established functions that focus on water quantity and water quality data collection and analysis.”

Fritz' bill passed the house on October 17 with a vote of 101-83.

What is the DRBC?

The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 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.

The full text of the DRBC’s proposed rule making may be read online at:

http://www.state.nj.us/drbc/meetings/proposed/notice_hydraulic-fracturing.html

To learn more about the commission, please visit http://www.drbc.net/ or follow DRBC on Twitter at @DRBC1961.