Energy. Environment. Economy.

Growing Tensions Within the Delaware River Basin Commission Halt Decision on Gas Drilling

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

An anti-drilling lawn sign sits on a lawn in East Stroudsburg, Pa.

The DRBC’s decision to cancel Monday’s vote shows how difficult it may be for the five-member multi-state commission to come to an agreement on regulating energy production in the basin. Marcellus Shale deposits lie below only two of the four states that comprise the DRBC. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers represents the federal government as a fifth voting member. But the river and its tributaries supply drinking water to about 15 million people in the metropolitan area that stretches from the river’s headwaters in upstate New York, downriver to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and into the Delaware estuary.

The decision to cancel the meeting came soon after Delaware Governor Jack Markell sent out

a letter explaining why he would vote “no” on the proposed rules. Delaware’s Secretary of Environment and Energy Collin O’Mara says not enough scientific studies are available to make good decisions.

“Once the genie’s out of the bottle, it could take years if not decades to clean up contamination if we don’t get this right,” says O’Mara. And we’ve seen problems in other states where casings have failed. And we keep saying in every way possible that it’s much more important to be right than to try to move fast.”

O’Mara says the Commission had been making changes to the proposed rules up until two days ago, even though the revised regulations were posted on the internet two weeks ago. The Commission staff has been silent on the cancelation, issuing a press release on Friday morning with little explanation as to why the meeting was canceled and when or if a new meeting will be scheduled.

The official word from the DRBC was that Commissioners needed more time to study the regulations. But a release put out by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett revealed a growing division among members who, he says, could not come to agreement over the new rules.

“Today’s delay – driven more by politics than sound science – is a decision to put off the creation of much-needed jobs, to put off securing our energy independence, and to infringe upon the property rights of thousands of Pennsylvanians,” Corbett said.

It’s unclear how New York, New Jersey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stand on the proposed rules. But New York is now engaged in a public hearing process over its own regulations. New York wants the Commission to delay a decision until the the Empire State’s Department of Environmental Conservation finalizes its own rules. New York’s Attorney General has sued to stop the DRBC from implementing any new rules until an environmental impact study is completed. Republican Governor Chris Christie has come under pressure to ban fracking in the Garden State, which is largely symbolic since the state has no significant natural gas deposits. Christie instead implemented a one-year moratorium on drilling. Still, it was expected that Christie would side with Pennsylvania and vote “yes.”

On the one hand, the Obama Administration has promoted natural gas as a cleaner burning fuel than coal, and as a way to wean the country off foreign oil. But Obama has also directed the EPA and the Department of Energy to study the environmental impacts of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the process used to mine shale gas. So it’s unclear where the U.S. Army Corps comes down on the issue of whether to pass the new rules and lift the moratorium on drilling in the basin, or wait for more conclusive studies from the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy. Environmentalists delivered petitions with 71,000 signatures to the Corps office in Philadelphia on Thursday, urging a ‘no’ vote.

Secretary O’Mara says Delaware is not the only representative on the Commission who wants to slow down the regulatory process in order to allow science to catch up.

“We are learning more every day, when we talk about the [Delaware River] Basin, it’s a small fraction of the total size of the Marcellus Shale,” said O’Mara. “We need to make sure best practices are driving decisions on regulations. …People are looking at the same science and coming to very different conclusions.”

O’Mara says two-thirds of Delaware’s residents get their drinking water from the river. He says Markell’s representatives have been pushing from behind the scenes to delay the vote, and make the newly revised rules available for public comment.

“In most of our states, if we made substantial changes to our regulations, after the public comment period, we would have to go back out for another round of public comment,” said O’Mara. And residents didn’t have that opportunity in this case.”

Environmentalists who planned to protest the lack of a new public comment period on the revised rules are taking a victory lap after this morning’s announcement. But for those landowners and leaseholders in northeast Pennsylvania, and New York’s southern tier, who want the moratorium lifted, the news comes as a disappointment. The Delaware River Basin Commission has not scheduled a new meeting. And that indicates the moratorium on drilling in the watershed will not be lifted soon.


  • Anonymous

    No rules from the DRBC is “a disappointment” to northeastern Pennsylvania? It’s an outrage, not a disappointment. Northern Wayne County is now the only section of the entire State of Pennsylvania where State regulations do not apply. How does this conservative group in the House, Senate, and Governor’s Mansion allow some half-baked multi-state group to negate State regulations in a Sovereign State? Should landowners begin paying their taxes to the DRBC or will the State still accept the tax revenue?

    • BarelySurviving

      Exactly Ladderback.  The DRBC has just confiscated your land without remuneration. You are now a state park for the elite of NYC, and at your expense.   I think all property owners in the Delaware River Basin should have a tax boycott.  I also believe property owners should be paid for the water that sheds off their property. Let’s start charging NYC for the water that sheds into the Delaware!  We have the technology.  Why doesn’t NYC clean up their own water supplies, drink it, and leave us alone?  I asked an anti-drilling New York Citiot this very question.  Her response?  ”Do you know how much money that would cost?”  Yet, it is okay to cost Wayne County jobs and millions of dollars of revenue from their land. Complete hypocrites.  Here’s what should be done.  NY state and Pennsylvania and Army Corp should meet for 10 minutes and propose these regs:  ”All regulations on gas drilling will be deferred to the individual states.”  Vote on it and get it passed 3-2 against NJ (political sheep)  and Delaware (who brings nothing, nada, zilch to the table).  Then, lets try to make up for lost time.  

  • BarelySurviving

    Pennsylvania owns 52% of the land in the Delaware River Basin, but has only a 20% vote on regulations. What is wrong with this scenario?  The State of Delaware, NJ and NY do not care about our people in Pennsylvania.  Wayne County alone has 37% of its citizens collecting some form of government aid just to survive.  We are drilling for gas safely in every other river basin in Pennsylvania.  It is time for Governor Corbett to show some spine, and withdraw from the DRBC.  It is costing Pennsylvania billions of dollars, jobs, and people are losing their land because of fear mongering by some actors who have small vacation homes in the vicinity and want the bulk of our population to live in eternal pastoral poverty for their own entertainment.  Who do you think IS making money on this?  It’s those very same actors looking for any kind of publicity.  They are not citizens of our county!  In the meantime, the farmer and common worker living in the Delaware River Basin take it ‘up the butt’ once again.  

  • Carrier

    Yes!  I live about a mile from the DE River and get 100% of my drinking water from that river, as do millions of residents.  I for one am happy that we’re researching the effects of this technology.  I’m all for job creation, but not at the risk of the health of our community.  There are plenty of ways to generate job growth, compromising our environment & drinking water need not be one of them.  Kudos to the officials wiling to stand up for the people, not the corporations driving this industry.  (Yeah, I hear you – land owners ya, ya, ya – you know who’s really benefiting from this right?  Here’s a secret – it isn’t you and I.)

    • BarelySurviving

      Duh!  Over 1 Million gas wells have been fracked, and over 300,000 in Pennsylvania alone.  Do you hear of death and devastation? No.  In Washingtonville, PA, where they have gas wells, their residents have better health because they can afford medical care.  Those people are happy and surviving well and totally employed.  Corporations aren’t driving this industry.  Our economy is in the sh–can.  Start learning to speak Mandarin because the Chinese own us. Isn’t it better to pay a farmer than to pay OPEC for our nation’s voracious appetite for energy.  Yes.  You are a hypocrite.  You use the energy every day, you pay to have it taken out of the earth.  But, you want to enjoy your pastoral scenic setting around your 1 measly acre at the expense of hard working property owners BECAUSE you are green with envy.  Go ahead.  Send your brother and sisters and cousins to hellholes like Iraq so you can sit on your fat arse and look at a pastoral scene.  You are weak.  The United States was not built by weaklings like you.  

      • guest

        3,300 wells in PA.  One major accident for every 100.  80 households in Bradford County alone who can no longer drink their well water.  Contaminated aquifers. Five ports now approved for exporting natural gas starting in 2014.  Price in US – $4.  Price in Japan – $14.  How will exploiting our resources save our young soldiers?  Hmmm?  It’s all about the corporate profit.  Nothing else.  

        • Jlh1218

          One major accident in 100?  BS
          80 Households in Bradford had naturally occuring methane in their ground water long before drilling ever started. 
          Oh yeah and Jeff Fox has been exposed as a fraud.
          You don’t want to drill on land directly adjacent to the Delaware? Fine.
          Anything beyond that makes absolutely no sense.  Just more overreaching nonsense from more unelected bureaucrats.
          The environuts are killing this country.  Just look around at the power that the EPA now has
          Truly scary.  They have just about killed off California.  Shutting down farms and businesses like the one in San Diego because the smell from a donut maker has now been deemed offensive.  Other states will soon follow if we don’t stop this tyranny
          Individual freedom is under attack in this country and we had better wake up before it is too late 

          Conservative Caveman

  • Greenville22

    Um, also the fact that 1500 activists were slated to come to the meeting, including Occupy Philly, may have played some role. Ahem.

  • Tim Burton

    One of these days, you people back east, will wake up in the dark and probably freeze to death with no gasoline to power your generator because there will be no energy source.  Out here in the west, we’ve been fracking wells for over 50 years with without a single down-hole issue while putting tens of thousands of people to work.  Ask the state of North Dakota what they think!

  • Al

    Remember 3 years ago when National Magazines were referring to Bradford County as Meth Valley? Always wondered if the wells with contamination were near the meth labs.

    And hundreds of wells already have methane in them –it is natural up here.

  • Educated Democrat

    I don’t take issue with the fact that every American can sell/lease their own land to a hydraulic fracking corporation at his/her behest.  However, will the American who leases his/her land take responsibility for ruining their neighbors’ water, and, in some cases, destroying their property value overnight?  Doubtful.  Will the fracking corporation take responsibility for ruining water?  I think the recent banking crisis proves just how socially irresponsible corporations are. 
    The bottom line is this:  Fracking Corporation shareholders will see all the profit from expanding fracking to every backyard in the Marcellous Shale area.  And, the Federal Government will be left making restitution to those that lost their water and property value.  Just look to who made restitution to those folks who lost their land due to coal mining disasters in Pennsylvania; not the coal corporations, but the government. 

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