Three hydro- fracking derricks drilling natural gas on a plain

The Delaware River Basin Commission Moves Toward Fracking 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 DRBC) recently made headway in the other direction. On November 30, 2017, the DRBC 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 DRBC 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.

The DRBC proposed to amend its Special Regulations to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in shale and other rock formations in the Delaware River Basin, to establish provisions regarding water use for hydraulic fracturing, and to establish provisions related to the management of water produced by hydraulic fracturing. The amendments “discourage” the diversion, transfer, or exportation of Delaware River Basin water to areas outside the basin to support hydraulic fracturing, and would require approval of the Commission for deviations from this policy. With the idea of protecting existing objectives for water quality in the region, 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 potential for thermal, radioactive, and chemical pollution. More than 15 million people rely on the Delaware River Basin for drinking water.

The proposed regulations are not insignificant to human population and 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 nine 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, Marcellus Shale region wells produce about 14 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Human health and environmental impacts caused by hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale formation are being litigated in many jurisdictions throughout the region.

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