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Delaware Basin Chairman Addresses Growing Calls For Action

Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) Chairman Michele Sierkerka said the organization is working to advance natural gas regulations in the basin, with "thousands of hours" logged so far by its staff and those of its member states on the process since November 2011.

Sierkerka -- an appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- decided to mention natural gas regulation at the DRBC's regular meeting on July 10 after complaints from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance LLC (NWPOA) that the organization was moving too slowly on the issue (see Shale Daily, July 8; July 5).

"I and my colleagues are continuing to confer in good faith and with forward momentum within and outside our regularly scheduled business meetings to reach consensus on a path forward that provides for the development of a potentially valuable energy source while protecting the vital water resources within the basin," Sierkerka said in a written statement.

Sierkerka said the DRBC was "reviewing new scientific studies released on the water resource impacts of natural gas drilling," but did not specify them. She also said the organization was "benchmarking new regulations, best management practices and performance standards adopted by states, federal agencies and organizations such as the Center for Sustainable Shale Development." The states were also not specified.

According to Sierkerka, the aforementioned reviews would help the DRBC "to set a level of minimum standards, a regulatory floor, for natural gas development in the [basin]..." She said water quality and quantity testing would be conducted to establish baseline conditions before any drilling occurred in the basin.

"With the help of a grant from the William Penn Foundation, developing a tool for evaluating the impacts of land-based development on water resources [will be possible, which in turn will help] facilitate informed planning and assess effects."

The NWPOA has threatened to sue the DRBC if it doesn't schedule a vote to consider revising its water quality regulations, or decides against stepping aside in regulating shale development in the basin.

The DRBC is led by the governors of the four basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and the federal government, represented by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) North Atlantic division.

The DRBC was near a vote to revise its water quality regulations in November 2011, but the meeting was canceled and the proposal postponed indefinitely after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he opposed it (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011).

Before the November 2011 meeting was canceled, New York officials said they would have joined Delaware in opposing the plan, but Pennsylvania was ready to vote in favor of it. New Jersey was undecided.

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