Tougher rules proposed for natural gas drilling near Delaware River

The multi-state agency that protects the water flowing in the Delaware River has proposed regulations for the natural gas drilling industry.

The Delaware River Basin Commission posted its long-awaited, and possibly controversial, proposals on its website Thursday morning.

 

The proposed rules would govern drilling in areas of New York and Pennsylvania where waterways feed into the Delaware River. The river provides drinking water for about 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia.

The regulations are tougher than Pennsylvania’s rules in several ways. Drillers would have to post a $125,000 bond for each new well, instead of the current $2,500 bond.

Regulators would consider the cumulative effect of drilling in an area when approving permits, instead of analyzing each well independently.

Carol Collier is the executive director of the the Delaware River Basin Commission. Collier says its not just spills and accidents that can impact water quality. The total number of drill sites matters.

“The water quality will change but it will be really slow and incremental until all of a sudden you see a change in fish species or a change in the aquatic community and it will be really difficult to move backward,” said Collier.

But some say the Commission is rushing the process. New York Governor David Paterson urged the regulators to hold off until his state conducts more studies on the process called hydraulic fracturing — which uses water, sand and chemicals to release underground natural gas.

Environmentalists say the drilling process has already contaminated drinking water supplies across the country. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

Iris Bloom is with Protecting Our Waters, which opposes drilling for natural gas in the basin.

“We should wait until the EPA has finished its study which will be two years from now to evaluate the risks of hydraulic fracturing for water and for air and therefore for public health,” said Bloom.

The commission will hold a series of public meetings on the proposed rules. Until the rules are adopted, a drilling moratorium stays in place for the Delaware River basin. Drilling in the rest of Pennsylvania continues.

A statement released by The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, expressed concern that the commission’s rules would conflict with Pennsylvania’s current regulations.

For a look at all of the active Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania see interactive map below.

Click on a point to view information about individual wells. [Source: PA DEP]

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