Delaware River agency advances ban on shale-gas drilling

Gas Drilling Signs of Life
A drill rig operating in Susquehanna County in 2011, near the border of the Delaware River watershed, where a ban on drilling is under consideration by the Delaware River Basin Commission.

The Delaware River Basin Commission, meeting in Bucks County on Wednesday, voted 3-1 to launch a process to formalize the current moratorium on natural-gas development near the river.

The DRBC, a regulatory body that oversees the water supply of 15 million people, voted to introduce the resolution, which directs the commission’s staff to prepare revised rules that would be brought up for public comment at hearings by Nov. 30.

The commission includes representatives from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government. The federal representative voted no, and New Jersey abstained.

The DRBC initiated the moratorium in 2010 as a rush of gas development moved toward the eastern edge of the Marcellus Shale formation underlying Pike and Wayne Counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, arousing environmental opposition.

Newfield Exploration Co., which drilled three exploratory wells in 2010 in Wayne County, plugged the wells two years later without beginning production.

The proposed ban is opposed by the gas industry and business interests, but hailed by environmental groups, though some say the ban is weak because it fails to prohibit the disposal of drilling wastes in the watershed.