The Delaware River Basin Commission Thursday released draft regulations that would ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the basin. The draft rules also include provisions for the treatment and disposal of fracking wastewater. Environmental groups are cautiously praising the proposal, while an oil and gas industry trade group is highly critical.
The Delaware River Basin, which drains from portions of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, supplies drinking water to more than 15 million people, including half of New York City. Delaware River Basin Commission spokesman Clarke Rupert says rules are drafted and implemented based on the answer to a fundamental question for the commission.
“Does it potentially have a substantial effect on the water resources of the basin because we’re a water resources management agency,” Rupert says.
Plus, he says.
“And, of course, hydraulic fracturing, just by the very nature of that activity, requires the use of a lot of water,” Rupert says. “And so that, that’s really that’s what it comes down to.”
Rupert says there has been a de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin since 2010. Catskill Mountainkeeper Associate Director Wes Gillingham supports the proposed ban.
“And one of the things that we were highly concerned about was whether it was just going to be for the Marcellus because there are other formations," Gillingham says. "And the language is for the shale and all other formations, so that’s really protective.”
He says the ban would be a win for the entire region.
“The Delaware River Basin goes through all these different states and there’s a clear recognition the importance of this area as a natural, environmental gem. And to allow any of this stuff in this place is ridiculous,” Gillingham says. “And the community and the people that live here had this hanging over their heads for more than 10 years, and it’s really time to put this thing to bed and let us go about our lives in a healthy manner, instead of wondering whether somebody’s going to come and pollute your water in your backyard.”
The American Petroleum Institute, a national oil and natural gas trade association, calls the draft rule misguided, and says a fracking ban would stifle job opportunities, ignore consumer needs and potentially limit government revenue. A spokesman referred WAMC to API’s prepared statement, in which an official says the association opposes the Delaware River Basin Commission’s attempt to ban safe and responsible energy development in the region. The statement goes on to say that the Commission’s proposed rule ignores the significant technology and engineering advancements in hydraulic fracturing that allow for responsible energy development with a smaller environmental footprint and necessary protections for communities.
Gillingham says Catskill Mountainkeeper does have concerns about the commission’s wording on water withdrawal and importation of fracking wastewater.
“When it said they are discouraging wastewater, we need to discourage it to a point where it doesn’t come in here,” says Gillingham.
He wants to see the word “prohibit” replace “discourage.” Gillingham says wastewater should not be imported into the basin and withdrawing water from the river should also be banned. The public comment period on the draft rules closes February 28 and there will be four public hearings in January in Pennsylvania. Again, the DRBC’s Rupert.
“This would not be a staff decision. This would be a vote that would be taken by our five commissioners that represent New York state, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the federal government,” says Rupert. “And that would be held at a publicly noticed business meeting at some point down the road.”
He declined to speculate on the earliest a vote could take place, given the number of unknowns, such as how many comments the DRBC receives and how long it might take to review them. The draft rules and more information can be found on the DRBC’s website.