Agency overseeing Delaware River basin puts fracking ban on agenda

The Delaware River Basin Commission said Monday that it would consider a resolution Wednesday to make permanent the current moratorium on natural-gas development near the river, a move met with both joy and caution by environmentalists.

The DRBC measure would “include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing” within the 13,539-square-mile basin.

“The revised draft regulations also would include provisions for ensuring 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,” the commission said in a statement.

The DRBC, a regulatory body with representatives from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the federal government, will vote only to introduce the resolution, beginning a months-long process. The resolution would direct the commission’s executive director, Steven J. Tambini, to prepare revised rules that would be brought up for public comment by Nov. 30. Hearings would be held.

Wednesday’s meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Linksz Pavilion at Bucks County Community College in Newtown.

The moratorium was initiated in 2010 by the DRBC, which oversees the water supply of 15 million people. If a permanent ban is approved, it would apply to Pike and Wayne Counties in northeastern Pennsylvania,  part of the nation’s largest gas field, the Marcellus Shale.

Environmental groups applauded the development, first reported Friday.

“The thousands of residents who have spent years campaigning to ban fracking in the Delaware River basin will make their voices heard once more,” said Sam Bernhardt, an organizer with Food and Water Watch. “Fracking has no place in the Delaware River watershed, or anywhere else for that matter. Now is the time for bold action on clean, renewable energy, and that requires an immediate end to dangerous fossil fuel extraction projects that are creating climate chaos.”

But Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said the measure could be a “Trojan horse” because the wording could leave open “the treatment and dumping of fracking waste, as well as taking water from the basin for the fracking process.”

“Banning fracking but then allowing the dumping of fracking waste undoes the whole purpose of the ban in the first place, which is to protect our water,” Tittel said.

The gas industry and its supporters were disappointed.

“DRBC’s latest action – another example of the out-of-the-mainstream activist agenda that has taken hold in Pennsylvania – flies in the face of common sense as well as settled science,” said David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “Regulatory overreach and a fundamentally broken permitting process costs local jobs and investment without helping our environment in any way and puts our economic prosperity at risk.”

“We oppose a prohibition on drilling in the basin,” said Kevin Sunday, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “It’s the wrong direction for this state.”