Water regulators for Philly, NYC mum on drilling talks

2017-02-21 05:32
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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New York - Environmental groups and anti-drilling residents fear regulators are taking steps to lift a seven-year moratorium on natural gas development near the Delaware River, whose watershed supplies Philadelphia and half the population of New York City.

They may or may not have anything to worry about.

The Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency that monitors and regulates the water supply of more than 15 million people, is remaining characteristically opaque about the progress of natural gas regulations that would open Pennsylvania's northeastern tip to drilling and fracking.

Alarm bells

Nevertheless, environmental activists packed a commission meeting last week to voice opposition amid rumblings that the agency has been accelerating work on the long-delayed regulations, which have been under development since former President Barack Obama's first term.

The activists became uneasy after learning that staff from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently met basin commission staff to discuss draft regulations for drilling in the Delaware watershed.

"It raised alarm bells for us right away," said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The meeting was disclosed in the Pennsylvania DEP's January report to a citizens advisory group. The DEP said that "all jurisdictions" at the meeting reviewed the draft regulations and "provided direction to the commission related to the next steps for regulatory actions."

A basin commission spokesperson said: "There is no timeframe for when the draft regulations will again come up for a vote."

The commission, which has representatives from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the federal government, abruptly shelved draft regulations in late 2011 and there has been little public movement on the issue since. It's not clear the five-member commission has any appetite to lift the drilling moratorium, which it imposed in 2010, citing the need to develop regulations to protect the environment.

Crucial waterways

But advocates say the situation bears watching.

"The public is at a disadvantage because we can't find out what's really going on," Carluccio said. "But we think there are enough danger signals here to warrant the public's response."

Environmental groups contend large-scale gas exploration so close to crucial waterways and renowned fisheries invites catastrophe. Farmers and other landowners say drilling will bring jobs and prosperity and chafe at what they see as unwarranted regulatory foot-dragging by the commission. Thousands of Marcellus Shale wells have been drilled in other parts of Pennsylvania.

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