Shale Watch Alert — Delaware River Basin Commission Moves Toward Hydraulic Fracturing Ban

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While the Trump administration has ushered in an era of deregulation on the environmental front, including proposals to repeal Obama-era standards governing hydraulic fracturing on government land, the Delaware River Basin Commission (the Commission) recently made headway in the other direction. On November 30, 2017, the Commission approved a resolution that could lead to a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River watershed —a region that includes 24 counties in portions of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The Commission is a multi-state regulatory authority comprised of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Delaware Governor John Carney, and Colonel Leon Parrott of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division.

In particular, the Commission proposed to amend its Special Regulations to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in shale and other rock formations in the Delaware River Basin and to establish certain provisions related to the management of water produced by hydraulic fracturing. Notably, the amendments also “discourage” the diversion, transfer, or exportation of Delaware River Basin water to areas outside the basin to support hydraulic fracturing, and would require approval by the Commission for any deviations from this policy. The proposal would further require Commission approval for water produced by hydraulic fracturing to be imported into the Delaware River Basin region. Hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale uses 3-5 million gallons of water per well, creating a potential for thermal, radioactive, and chemical pollution. More than 15 million people rely on the Delaware River Basin for their drinking water.

The proposed regulations are not insignificant to human population or the energy industry as the Marcellus Shale formation lies under approximately 36 percent of the Delaware River Basin. As those familiar with oil and gas exploration are aware, the Marcellus Shale formation is an outcropping of rock that extends through much of the Allegheny Plateau region of the United States, encompassing portions of 9 states and extending into Canada. In the early part of this decade, estimates were that the Marcellus Shale contained 400-500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, although this was later revised to note approximately 140 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. Energy companies have made significant investment in land, wells, and pipelines in the region possibly anticipating future access to gas deposits not presently seen as recoverable. Currently, the Marcellus Shale region wells produce about 14 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Human health and environmental impacts allegedly caused by hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale formation are being litigated in many jurisdictions throughout the region.

Public hearings on the DRBC’s proposed amendments are set to take place on January 23, 2018 in Waymart, PA and January 25, 2018 in Philadelphia, PA. With the competing interests of politicians, environmentalists, and the energy industry, it will likely be a contentious affair.