Delaware says “no” to fracking… for now

In a letter to other voting members of the Delaware River Basin Commission, Delaware Governor Jack Markell says he will reject proposed regulations authorizing natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Delaware River Basin, ahead of Monday’s DRBC meeting in Trenton.

Gov. Markell says he has “significant concerns” the Natural Gas Development Regulations don’t adequately protect public health and safety. Even though drilling is not expected in Delaware, the watershed area that would be opened up to drilling serves as the primary water supply source for at least two-thirds of Delaware’s residents.

“By far, the single most important issue for a downstream state like Delaware is whether the wells are being drilled, constructed, and operated in a manner that adequately protects our public and private water supplies,” said Gov. Markell.

Fracking bores channels into rock layers using highly-pressurized water mixed with things like sand and chemicals to release, in this case, natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

Using Pennsylvania as an example, where more than 3-thousand wells were drilled in just over three years, before addressing issues like well construction and operation, Markell’s letter noted several high profile incidents in Pennsylvania where irresponsible fracking could have resulted in potential contamination of ground and surface water.

Currently, New York, Pennsylvania, the EPA and the DRBC are collaborating to develop standards and regulations that Markell says have yet to be finalized. Furthermore, Markell says with changes made to the draft regulations as recently as November 16, the public has not been given ample time to review, let alone comment, before Monday’s meeting. Consequently, the Governor feels it’s his duty to vote against the proposed regulations.

“Instead of beginning exploration in the Delaware River Basin and hoping we get a proper regulatory framework in place after-the-fact, it is Delaware’s view the Commission has an obligation to ensure that critical issues regarding well construction and operation are finalized first and not subject to subsequent dilution,” said Gov. Markell.

However, according to the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Center for Energy Competitiveness, Delaware should approve natural gas fracking rules now. A move the think tank says will provide a source of domestic energy that can lower electricity and heating costs and decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, among other things.

According to the website, the center’s Director, David Stevenson lists the below reasons why:

“There has been ample time for review and public comment. Requests for more hearings is merely a delaying tactic by groups who want to stop drilling completely.
The proposed rules adequately protect the basin with well pad setbacks and well siting requirements, and requirements for waste water re-use or treatment.
The rules are consistent with other jurisdictions, some in operation for over sixty years, and with experience learned from over one million “fracked” wells drilled in the U.S. so far.”

“This does not mean that Delaware will refuse to move forward under any circumstances,” Markell said. “Once hydrofracturing begins in the basin, the proverbial “faucet” cannot be turned off, with any damage to our freshwater supplies likely requiring generations of effort to clean up. In this case, it is more important to get it right, than to be fast.”

The letter was addressed to the Governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, as well as to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Update:  The StateImpact team from NPR reports the meeting Monday has been delayed.  Here is the link to their report.

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