Delaware River Basin Commission Moves Ahead on Rules to Ban Fracking

Tom Johnson | September 14, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Environmentalist greet ban with approval, but are less pleased with regulations that will address how fracking wastewater will be disposed of in the region

Delaware River
The Delaware River Basin Commission yesterday formally began the process of drafting new rules to ban natural gas drilling in the basin, as well as other regulations that could benefit the industry in areas not covered by the prohibition.

By a narrow margin, the commission approved a resolution directing its staff to draw up the new regulations on an issue that has caused huge controversy, including at the interstate agency.

The action, if adopted sometime next year, would ban hydraulic fracturing, the technology used to extract gas from shale formations, within the basin. At the same time, it would propose new rules governing the transfer of water for drilling outside the basin and the storage, treatment and disposal of fracking wastewater in the basin.

NJ Spotlight will explore issues affecting the Delaware River watershed and steps to protect its resources at an event at Camden County Community College tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. Follow this link to register.

In effect, the proposals would protect the resources of the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for 15 million people in four states, while at the same time regulating drilling operations in areas where they are now permitted.

The latter concerns environmentalists, who welcome the ban, but oppose water transfers out of the basin for fracking, which requires enormous amounts of water for the drilling process. They also are against disposing fracking wastewater within the basin.

“The frackers get our clean water and we get a superfund site back,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, after the commission passed the resolution by a 3-1-1 vote, the minimum needed for adoption. New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware all supported drafting the new rules, while New Jersey abstained on the vote and the federal government representative, the Army Corps of Engineers, voted no.

Gov. Chris Christie has generally supported activities that expand natural-gas supplies. His alternate, Dan Kennedy, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection, did not explain his abstention and left before the meeting was over.

A moratorium on fracking is now in place within the basin — in effect since 2010 when the commission held off adopting regulations on natural-gas drilling. Some fracking waste has been disposed at licensed treatment facilities in New Jersey.

The commission told its executive director to issue rules on natural-gas operations no later than November 30, 2017. Given the administrative rulemaking process, the regulation probably will not be adopted until sometime in 2018. There will be at least one or more public hearings on the rules, according to Steve Tambini, executive director.

“People are trying to figure out what the rules are going to say,’’ Tambini said at the packed meeting at Bucks County Community College. “They are not ready yet.’’

In New Jersey, the Legislature tried to prohibit the dumping of fracking wastewater in the state, but a bill to ban the practice was blocked by Christie.

“Fracking and the toxic waste it produces and vast quantities of water it consumes must be banned in its entirety,’’ said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Since huge deposits of natural gas have been found in Pennsylvania and other states’ shale formations, it has led to an economic boom in the region while lowering costs for businesses and consumers despite protests over environmental concerns. New York has banned the practice statewide.