Proposed regulations that may determine how portions of the Marcellus Shale are developed by natural gas drillers have been delayed until the middle of October by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC).

Commission staff couldn't make the self-imposed end-of-summer deadline to issue draft rules for public comment, said DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier. "It's better to get it right than to get it quick," she said. "The issues are complicated."

The commission's draft regulations apparently are completed, for the most part, and have been distributed to commission members, who include the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The states are in motion," Collier said following the DRBC's regular meeting last week. "The regulations are changing. Some things will be stricter and some things will be less strict."

Commission staff in May was directed to draft regulations for gas well pad projects in shale formations within the basin (see Daily GPI, May 12). A month later the DRBC voted to temporarily ban new permits for exploratory gas drilling in the watershed (see Daily GPI, June 16).

Although gas drilling development has escalated across most of the Marcellus Shale, the DRBC, which has wide federal-interstate latitude to protect the 13,500 square miles that drain into the Delaware River watershed, has proceeded cautiously. Some portions of the basin are considered "special protection waters" and other portions have enhanced federal protection because they are considered "wild and scenic areas."

The DRBC in its regular meeting appeared to make clear that it plans to listen to arguments from both sides.

Groups opposed to drilling in the watershed had asked the commission to halt exploratory drilling until new drilling regulations were in place. The DRBC voted the request down.

Commission members also avoided a vote on a separate request by 77 organizations, which had sent a joint letter that urged the DRBC to undertake a cumulative environmental impact study before new or revised gas regulations were adopted.

Meanwhile, the commission plans to reduce the amount of money it will require producers to set aside for any environmental cleanup related to drilling. The DRBC apparently had been considering a $5 million financial assurance bond for each well site.

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