The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is giving the public another month to comment on proposed regulations for natural gas development in the four-state watershed. The federal/interstate agency will now take comments through April 15.

The five-member commission announced the decision at its Wednesday meeting, following hearings in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The hundreds who testified on the proposed regulations mostly found them lacking, but often for very different reasons. Drilling proponents believe the regulations are too harsh and could unnecessarily stifle development, while drilling opponents believe they are too lenient and could fail to protect one of the most important drinking water sources in the country (see Shale Daily, Feb. 24).

The extension will give the public and government officials more time to provide technical comments on the proposed regulations, according to DRBC Executive Director Carol Collier. The DRBC is already sorting through some 2,500 comments received to date.

The 83-page regulations proposed in December include new rules for wastewater management, water sources for natural gas development and well pad siting. Natural gas development is mostly on hold in the region while the regulations are pending because last May the DRBC imposed a moratorium on new well pad permits (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10, 2010). Once the regulations are in place, permit applications will likely ramp up considerably because much of the 13,539 square-mile basin overlies the Marcellus Shale formation.

The DRBC includes 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' North Atlantic division.

The decision to extend the comment deadline passed by a four-to-one vote, with only Pennsylvania voting against the extension. Of the four member states, Pennsylvania is the only one where Marcellus Shale drilling is currently under way. While New York also overlies the Marcellus Shale formation, the state is not currently issuing permits. New Jersey and Delaware do not overlie the formation.

The one-month extension is a compromise, of sorts.

In a recent letter to the DRBC, Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber said extending the deadline would "undermine dialogue on these proposed regulations by granting those with the least involvement and direct affiliation with the river basin disproportionate impact, detracting from the voices of key stakeholders heard throughout the process." Klaber noted that landowners, residents and industry have been reviewing the regulations since late last year.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), a watershed advocacy group, asked for a three-month extension to the 90-day comment period and additional hearings to gather more input from larger cities in the basin, like Philadelphia and New York. The DRN also said the public and experts needed more than 90 days to fully analyze the proposed regulations. At least six Pennsylvania state representatives, all Democrats from the Greater Philadelphia area, also asked the DRBC to extend the deadline and hold more hearings.