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Delaware River Basin Commission Considering Ban on NatGas Development, Fracking

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) will consider a resolution at its meeting on Wednesday calling for a rulemaking that ultimately could place a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and related natural gas development activities in the river basin.

The DRBC said Monday the resolution is a procedural measure that, if adopted, would direct its executive director to prepare and publish a revised set of draft regulations governing natural gas development activities within the basin by Nov. 30. The agency emphasized that commissioners would not adopt any draft regulations at Wednesday's meeting, which is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT at Linksz Pavilion, on the campus of Bucks County Community College in Newtown, PA.

"If the proposed resolution is approved by the commission on [Wednesday], the revised draft rules to be published on a later date would include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and fracking within the Delaware River Basin," the DRBC said.

"The revised draft regulations would also include provisions for ensuring the safe and protective storage, treatment, disposal or discharge of fracking-related wastewater where permitted and provide for the regulation of inter-basin transfers of water and wastewater for purposes of natural gas development where permitted."

The DRBC said it plans to hold public hearings on the draft regulations and provide "ample opportunity for written comments."

Environmental groups have been lobbying the DRBC for years for prohibitions or an outright permanent ban on fracking and other activities in the basin. Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told the Associated Press (AP) last week that the organization supports a permanent ban.

"The water resources of the Delaware River watershed would be inevitably and indelibly degraded should oil and gas drilling be allowed to commence,” Carluccio said.

Conversely, supporters of oil and gas development and some landowners oppose a ban.

"Banning the safe, tightly-regulated development of American natural gas is great news” for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, “but it's bad news for working families," Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer told the AP. "We strongly encourage DRBC to make sound policy based on facts and science, not politically charged hyperbole."

The DRBC decided in 2009 that all gas drilling in the basin needed to be reviewed, and said it would not approve any development until it adopted rules governing the industry. The agency postponed the natural gas development review in 2010 and failed to act on adopting rules in 2011, leaving in place the de facto moratorium.

Last March, the DRBC said it had no plans to lift the moratorium on natural gas drilling within the 13,539-square mile watershed. Also in March, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit filed by a small exploration and production company that challenged the authority of the DRBC to review and approve gas drilling in the watershed.

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