Delaware Riverkeeper Maya von Rossum tells StateImpact PA that her sources say the Delaware River Basin Commission has decided to cancel Monday’s scheduled meeting and planned vote. The DRBC could not be reached to confirm the move, which would put off a decision on the Commission’s proposed natural gas drilling rules. But von Rossum says that during a conversation with New Jersey officials responsible for permitting the Delaware Riverkeeper’s planned demonstration, the official let slip that the meeting may not take place. The Riverkeeper, along with several other environmental groups, planned to protest the Commission’s decision not to allow public comment on the revised rules. If the DRBC does not hold its Monday meeting, it will be the third time a public event scheduled to address the new gas drilling rules would be postponed. An approval of the proposed regulations would lift the current moratorium on gas drilling in the Basin.Rumors of a third cancellation began circulating on the internet Thursday evening. At about the same time, Delaware Governor Jack Markell sent a letter to the Commission outlining his opposition to the rules. In the letter, Markell says the DRBC has not conducted enough scientific analysis on the impact of gas drilling.
“Instead of beginning the exploration in the Delaware River Basin and hoping we get a proper regulatory framework in place after-the-fact, it is Delaware’s view the Commission has an obligation to ensure that critical issues regarding well construction and operation are finalized first and not subject to subsequent dilution,” Markell wrote.
The Commission has proposed what it calls a “cap and pause,” meaning no more than 300 well sites can be developed within 18 months. At that time, the DRBC would revisit their gas drilling rules, and amend them if necessary. Markell has come down on the side of environmentalists, who have been calling for a continued moratorium while the Commission conducts an environmental impact study. The Delaware River provides drinking water for about 15 million people including two-thirds of Delaware’s residents.
The move by Markell puts the approval of the regulations in jeopardy. A simple majority of the five-member Commission is necessary to approve the new rules, and lift the drilling moratorium in the Delaware River Basin. Pennsylvania is solidly behind lifting the moratorium. On Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Krancer, testified in Congress that states are the proper authorities to oversee gas drilling, not the federal government. Krancer was likely referring to the EPA. But the federal government also has a vote on the Commission, represented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In fact, the revised DRBC gas drilling rules do leave much of the regulation and enforcement of land use and well siting to the states.
New York’s Attorney General has filed a lawsuit trying to force the Commission to conduct an environmental impact study. So the Empire State’s representative on the Commission is expected to join Delaware and vote against the rules. That leaves New Jersey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a difficult position as the deciding votes. It’s unclear how either will come down on the issue. But without a solid majority the Commission may not want to put the rules up for a vote on Monday. Although drilling opponents are already claiming a victory, those residents of Wayne and Pike counties who want the moratorium lifted will likely be disappointed that drilling the Delaware River Basin remains in limbo. Expect some sort of announcement from the DRBC Friday morning.