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Delaware River Basin Commission Bans Hydraulic Fracking Drilling Activities In Watershed; Will Develop Regs To Manage Drilling Wastewater

On February 25, the Delaware River Basin Commission voted to ban hydraulic fracking drilling activities in the Delaware River Watershed.

Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania supported the ban.  The representative of the federal government abstained because, he said, there was not time to coordinate with the Biden Administration.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, who represented Gov. Wolf at the meeting, read a statement from the Governor during the vote--

"After careful analysis and consideration of the unique geographic, geologic, and hydrologic characteristics of the Delaware River Basin, DRBC commissioners are acting today under the authority of the Delaware River Basin Compact to protect the water resources of the basin, the source of drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians.

"Having supported this effort since I was a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, I am proud to join with other DRBC commissioners in preserving the water resources of this unique region for generations to come.”

In a second action, the Commission voted unanimously to develop regulations for the management of drilling wastewater coming into the Delaware Watershed and for water being taken out of the watershed for use in drilling operations.

The proposed wastewater regulations are to be available no later than September 30.

Click Here for copies of documents adopted by the Commission.

Click Here for DRBC press release on these actions.

Additional Background

The Delaware River Basin Commission has had a temporary ban on natural gas fracking in the watershed since 2010 while it developed regulations on the process.

DRBC proposed a permanent ban on one process for developing Shale gas-- fracking-- in November, 2017 for public review.  In its last public statement on the proposal in April 2018, the Commission said it had no timetable for finalizing the fracking ban.  Read more here.

The Wayne Land and Mineral Group, a group of landowners in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, want to allow fracking in the River Basin. They have sued the DRBC, claiming it lacks authority to regulate this dangerous industrial activity.

In 2017, a federal court threw out a similar landowner challenge to DRBC’s authority, but the case was revived on appeal by the landowners in 2018.

Republican members of the  Pennsylvania Senate and House have sought to intervene in the challenge supporting the Wayne County landowners in two ways.

Senate Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) requested for a second time to intervene directly in the federal court case, a highly unusual move.

They withdrew their second attempt to intervene in July of last year.  Read more here.

Their initial attempts were turned down by the Court, but they appealed the 2019 ruling.  Read more here

On January 11, the entire PA Senate Republican Caucus filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the DRBC moratorium on drilling.  Read more here.

On February 12, the Delaware RiverKeeper filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.  Read more here.

Republicans in both the Senate and House have introduced legislation that unilaterally declares a fracking ban a taking of property and would require the Delaware River Basin Commission to directly compensate landowners for their loss of property value if a permanent fracking ban is enacted by the Commission.

At a House Committee hearing in March of 2019, supporters of this legislation said the bill would require DRBC to pay landowners up to $10 billion, a significant portion of which would have to be paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers since the state is part of the DRBC.

A suggestion was made to put a fee on each household to pay the Wayne County landowners for their lost property value at another House hearing.  Read more here.

Senate Bill 305 (Baker-R-Luzerne) was reported out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in June of last year and was left in the Senate Appropriations Committee and the end of session last year.

House Bill 827 (Fritz-R-Wayne) was left on the House Calendar without action at the end of session after being reported out of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in May of 2019.

Both bills are expected to be reintroduced again this session.

For more information on proposed natural gas fracking moratorium, visit DRBC’s Natural Gas Drilling webpage.


Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, issued this statement on the DRBC action-- “The DRBC ban is not just an assault on a highly regulated industry that employs thousands of Pennsylvanians, but it’s another example of neighboring state’s dictating our energy policy.

“The Commission is using New York’s failed policies to institute a ban on development.  Pennsylvania has robust rules and regulations in place to protect our environmental resources, which have allowed for the safe development of natural gas in our state. This action serves to undermine economic development and job growth in the region and statewide.”

His statement added--

In October 2020, former President Trump directed the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assess the economic impacts of prohibiting, or sharply restricting, the use of hydraulic fracturing and other technologies in oil and gas exploration.  He also directed a review of lost jobs, increases in energy prices, decreases in property values, and decreases in tax revenues, to name a few, as the result of any ban on fracking.

On January 14th, 2021, DOE delivered that report to the President.  The report reinforces the obvious – banning hydraulic fracturing, a technique used for over 50 years across the world, would reverse oil and natural gas growth and return the United States to a net-importer of oil and gas by 2025.  It would weaken our position on a global scale and negatively impact our national security.

Specifically, the report notes that the U.S. shale revolution has been the single most significant contributor to our energy security.  As a result, our country is less impacted by oil disruptions in the market, and consumers and industry enjoy the reliability and affordability of an abundant natural resource.

Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Callahan blasted the Delaware River Basin Commission for violating private property rights and ignoring sound science in a vote banning the critical American natural gas development technology of hydraulic fracturing.

“It may be a good day for those who seek higher energy prices for American consumers and a deeper dependence on foreign nations to fuel our economy, but this vote defies common sense, sound science, and is a grave blow to constitutionally protected private property rights,” said MSC president David Callahan.“The Commission’s blatant disregard for scientific evidence and bodies of independent research – including from the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin where continuous water quality and quantity monitors have shown no impact from shale development – further demonstrates the purely political nature of this action.

“We are extremely disappointed in Governor Wolf, who aligned with out-of-state interests to jam through a fracking ban that directly harms working-class Pennsylvania families. We were hopeful that President Biden would keep his vague commitment to not ban fracking, as he told Pennsylvania voters over and over. The Biden administration’s lack of action today, along with the president’s economically devastating anti-energy executive orders – which have already put tens of thousands of skilled union laborers out of work – does absolutely nothing to help America,” added Callahan.

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr issued the following statement in response to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s vote to ban natural gas drilling:

“We are extremely disappointed to see Governor Wolf vote in lock step with the other states in the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban drilling and activities related to natural gas development in the basin. Throughout the pandemic, we have been told by government leaders to trust the science. The science is clear: as both the EPA and other water quality regulators, including the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, have noted, there is no support to any claim that drilling results in widespread impacts to drinking water, rivers or groundwater. This was a political decision uninformed by science.

“It’s important to note that while Texas and other states in the Midwest faced rolling blackouts, Pennsylvania and the grid it belongs to, PJM, were exporting significant volumes of gas and electricity thanks to our significant portfolio of gas, coal and nuclear resources that provide baseload power. It is quite clear the region and nation rely heavily on Pennsylvania’s resources to keep the lights on, and we must oppose any efforts to restrict the production and transmission of our natural resources.

“The votes by New York, New Jersey and Delaware provide further evidence that these states do not have Pennsylvania’s best interests in mind. Despite being in close proximity to Pennsylvania’s prolific wells, these states have obstructed infrastructure development that would have delivered Pennsylvania’s energy to the states and to customers in New England, where shamefully they have had to rely on foreign natural gas, including a tanker from Russia. These states have also taken regulatory actions to hamper the operating environment for manufacturing and energy resources, and today’s vote should give policymakers further pause in further coordination with these states on energy policy, such as joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

“Finally, the federal government’s decision to abstain from this vote is extremely disappointing, given the national energy security implications of reduced domestic energy development and President Biden’s stated commitment to reducing emissions and re-shoring manufacturing. With our economy reeling due to the pandemic and associated lockdown measures, and recent events highlighting how imperative energy production is, this is no time to let irresponsible voices carry the day and impede energy development.”

“PennFuture applauds the historic and necessary step taken today by the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban fracking within the basin,” said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. “As the agency responsible for managing the water supply for 13 million people, the DRBC today acted responsibly, within its authority, and in the best interests of both public health and the environment.

“The Commission listened to the thousands of voices, including PennFuture, who supported the ban on fracking—and called for the rejection of the proposed regulations on fracking-related interbasin water transfers and the treatment and disposal of fracking wastewater—so that our Delaware River water resources can truly be protected for now and for future generations.

“However, the fight isn’t over yet. Because the DRBC withdrew its proposed regulations regarding interbasin water transfers and fracking wastewater treatment within the basin, and instead plans to issue new regulations for public comment by September of this year, PennFuture will review those regulations and will explore all of our options to ensure that the Commission’s regulations are fully protective of water quality.

“The fracked gas industry in Pennsylvania has a long and infamous history of disrespecting our laws, communities, shared resources and environment, and PennFuture must be sure that the Delaware River and its tributaries will not be the latest victims of contamination and degradation by an industry that has shown, time and again, it cannot be trusted to protect our natural resources.”

“This is a powerful moment; our watershed Governors and the President listened to the people and honored their commitments to protect us from the devastations of fracking in our watershed,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.  “To all the people who said we should accept the regulatory proposal that banned fracking but still sacrifice our watershed to the toxic frack wastewater and water exports I say never underestimate the power of the people.  We clearly still have further to go, the ban on the actual fracking is irreplaceably important but we also need a permanent ban that prevents the fracking industry from using our watershed as the dumping ground for its toxic waste, and that prohibits it from sapping our precious waters to be used to sacrifice others to the fracking industry.  Governor Murphy, Governor Carney and Governor Wolf promised to protect our watershed from all aspects of the fracking industry, we are going to hold them to that promise and will urge Governor Cuomo and President Biden to also step up and protect the present and future generations of our region by also ensuring complete and enduring protections from all aspects of fracking including its toxic wastewater and water withdrawals.  But as of today, this is a major victory! And we are so very grateful to our 4 watershed governors -- Murphy, Cuomo, Wolf and Carney -- and the President for their proactive and protective decision today!”

Click Here for more comments by Maya van Rossum.

"The Commissioners listened to the people and to the science in making this historic move. We thank them for taking a stand to protect the basin from unconventional drilling and the practices surrounding it," said Karen Feridun, Founder, Berks Gas Truth in Pennsylvania.

“This has been an epic battle engaged by a huge, diverse, well-informed and united watershed community,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

“The outcome is historic because the Delaware River Watershed is preventing pollution and degradation by their forthright precautionary action to ban fracking and begin the next step towards a full ban by the adoption of regulations that will ban the import of wastewater from fracking and the export of water to fuel fracking’s destruction elsewhere. These next steps put us on the road to a full and powerful defense against the toxic and radioactive pollution that inextricably comes with fracking and allows the Delaware to provide clean drinking water to 17 million people who rely on the river’s flows. We will fully engage in the coming months in the rulemaking process to achieve a full ban on fracking for the sake of all our communities, human and nonhuman.”

Joseph Minott, Clean Air Council’s Executive Director and Chief Counsel, issued the following statement: “Clean Air Council is thrilled that the DRBC listened to the public and banned fracking in the Delaware River Watershed once and for all. We welcome DRBC’s next steps to complete its fracking ban by prohibiting water withdrawals needed for fracking as well as the disposal of toxic fracking wastewater in the watershed.”

“Beloved waterfowl like American Black Ducks rely on a healthy Delaware River Watershed ecosystem to survive – just as communities do across the four watershed states. Today’s final regulations highlight the critical role of the Delaware River Basin Commission in managing shared water resources across political boundaries and protecting the watershed’s surface water, forest and groundwater resources,” said Beth Brown, director of Audubon’s Delaware River Watershed Program. “Audubon is encouraged by the DRBC’s recognition of climate change impacts on the watershed and its efforts toward a cleaner energy future.”

“Audubon commends the DRBC and its role in taking a science-based approach to managing water quality and quantity in the basin – through programs like Special Protection Waters, robust monitoring programs and technical modeling – to ensure drinking water reliability and quality,” said Suzanne Biemiller, executive director of Audubon Mid-Atlantic.

The Better Path Coalition issued this statement on the DRBC action-- “We congratulate our allies who have fought for this ban for 11 years and worked to stop the additional regulations proposed in 2017.

“The reasons cited for today’s decision include the rapidly growing body of peer-reviewed science on the adverse impacts of shale gas development and evidence of the harms done in areas outside the basin for more than a decade. Many of those studies include or focus specifically on data from Pennsylvania. Many of the harms they have noted have occurred in Pennsylvania. For too many Pennsylvanians, the harms are still occurring with no end in sight.

“Communities outside of the Delaware River Basin are entitled to the same protections as those within it. We reject allowing any part of the state to be a sacrifice zone.”

Statement on the DRBC action by Nadia Steinzor, Earthworks Senior Policy Analyst-- “We are happy that Governor Wolf, and the Governors of all member states, have finally accepted the science supporting a fracking ban and voted to protect the precious water supplies and communities within the Delaware River watershed. We are grateful to the many advocates and residents who have fought long and hard to protect the region from the oil and gas industry.

“The same science and risks to health and the environment acknowledged by Governor Wolf apply everywhere the oil and gas industry operates, not just the river basin containing the richest and most populous metro area in the state.

“We hope that Governor Wolf will soon act similarly to protect all Pennylvanians whose water, air, and quality of life is threatened, through the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and statewide.

“The Governor has an opportunity now to expand the leadership he showed with the DRBC vote by closing loopholes in his proposed rule to limit oil and gas air pollution and moving forward to realize his climate commitments by encouraging a more just, equitable clean energy future for Pennsylvania.”

Related Articles:

-- Delaware RiverKeeper Approved To Intervene In Federal Lawsuit By PA Senate Republican Caucus Against DRBC Ban On Hydraulic Fracking Gas Drilling

-- PA Environmental Defense Foundation Asks PA Supreme Court To Stop Unconstitutional Diversions Of Revenue From Gas Drilling On State Forest Land That So Far Has Taken Over $829 Million

-- DEP Collects $497,000, Fish & Boat Commission Collects $25,855 In Penalties For Latest Violations Involving Mariner East 2 Pipeline Construction In Lebanon County

-- Sen. Yaw Introduces Bill To Preempt Local Governments From Requiring New Buildings Use Climate-Friendly Energy Sources

[Posted: February 25, 2021]


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