The Delaware River Basin Commission has released revised guidelines for natural gas drilling in the watershed. After three years of debate, the regulations could pave the way for drilling to start in Pennsylvania’s Wayne and Pike counties as early as next year.
The proposed regulations would cap the number of wells that can be drilled in the entire basin at 300 for the first 18 months.
After the assessment period, the commission will review drilling activities and adjust the rule.
“It’s probably not a perfect rule right now, and there are going to be things that we’ve learned and we want to be able to adapt and do better in providing for the water resources of the basin,” said Bob Tudor, DRBC deputy director.
The rules are an updated version of a December 2010 draft, which elicited about 69,000 public comments and hours of testimony.
The new regulations would increase the amount of money companies must post as an assurance to cover the costs of plugging abandoned wells and remediating pollution from $125,000 per well to a minimum of $5 million.
The new rules will be voted on at a Nov. 21 meeting which, to the outcry of environmental activists, will not have a public comment period.
Those pushing for more restraint on drilling in the basin, including Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, say the assessment period and 300-well limit are not enough.
“It’s not a slowdown, it’s not a cumulative assessment, which is what is really necessary to insure informed regulation,” van Rossum said. “It’s merely a facade; it’s merely a game to try to show some pretense of restraint by the Delaware River Basin Commission.”
The changes increase the required setback between gas wells and public drinking water sources from 500 to 1,000 feet, but decrease the buffer zone required for wetlands and water bodies.
The Delaware River Basin spans four states and provides drinking water for 15 million people. A moratorium on gas drilling has been in place while authorities settle on regulations.