The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted unanimously to adopt its proposed "One Process/One Permit" (OPOP) program, a measure designed to promote interagency cooperation between it and its four member states, but which could also one day have an impact on natural gas development in the basin, should it move forward.
Last week the commission agreed to amend the rules section of its administrative manual to include the OPOP program, which was first suggested last February (see Shale Daily, Feb. 27). The final rule will become effective 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.
Under OPOP, the commission and the environmental/regulatory agencies of its four state signatories -- Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York -- would coordinate and collaborate in administering a single review and single permit for applicable projects. Such projects would include, but would not be limited to, discharges, water withdrawals and flood plain requirements within the basin.
OPOP also empowers the states to act as lead agencies and issue wastewater discharge permits for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water quality programs. For water withdrawals, the lead agency could be either a state or the DRBC, depending upon applicable state programs.
The DRBC also responded to criticism it received during the public comment period over OPOP as it pertains to natural gas development. Specifically, the commission said several respondents said OPOP "is politically motivated to streamline the natural gas agenda...[and] is an effort by New Jersey to make independent decisions" on natural gas projects.
"OPOP does not alter the commission's current policies regarding natural gas development activities," the DRBC said. "Any changes to the current status of natural gas drilling within the basin would require commission review and approval."
Oil and natural gas development is currently banned in the 13,539-square-mile Delaware River watershed. The DRBC said a determination by its executive director in 2009, which eliminated the commission's project review thresholds for activities related to natural gas development -- "including withdrawals, discharges and diversions of water or wastewater" in connection with hydraulic fracturing -- remains in effect. The DRBC also left unchanged its decision in May 2010 to postpone the review of natural gas well pads pending the adoption of DRBC rules governing drilling.
"Depending upon the specific details of each natural gas or other transmission main project, the project could require review and approval by DRBC. Nothing in OPOP changes that," the commission said. "However, it is feasible that if the only thresholds for review by DRBC were proposed water withdrawals, wastewater discharges, or both, a coordinated review would be performed, similar to that required for any other withdrawal or discharge project."
The DRBC was close to a vote to revise its water quality regulations in November 2011, but the proposal was postponed indefinitely after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he opposed it (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011). At the time, 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.
The DRBC is led by the governors of the four basin states and the federal government, represented by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic division. It has regulatory jurisdiction over the watershed.