Regulations on a possible ban on fracking in the Delaware River watershed are in the works

Not a ban, just regulations about a ban. Wait, no, a possible ban.

This is the way the Delaware River Basin Commission works: slowly.

It's taken nine years to get this far. More on that later, but yesterday's vote was to ask the executive director (and the DRBC staff) to prepare draft regulations on "certain natural gas development activities in the Delaware River Basin."

To be clear, no new regulations, just the commissioners directing the executive director to develop regulations which are due on or before Nov. 30. Then there will be public hearings. The vote on the newly developed regulations will likely not be before 2018.

There are three key components of the draft regulation. The first deals with "prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing within the Basin."

That's the one that created a big noise last week as it seems to suggest that a fracking ban could be in the works.

That view is supported by one of the many "Whereases" in the resolution that was passed yesterday: (fracking) "presents risks, vulnerabilities and impacts to surface and ground water resources across the country."

But upending the rejoicing were the other two components of the draft regulations.

The second called for "provisions for ensuring the safe and protective storage, treatment, disposal and/or discharge of wastewater within the Basin associated with (fracking) where permitted."

The third component is more of the same: "regulation of inter-basin transfer of water and wastewater for purpose of (fracking) where permitted."

OK, that's the nuts and bolts -- though to mix my metaphors it can certainly look like a jumble of spaghetti. Here's a link to the full resolution:…/ResforMinutes091317_natgas-initiate-rul…

All of the audience members who spoke (it wasn't an official public hearing -- that can't happen until there are actual regulations to have a public hearing about) pointed out that those three components seem to be contradictory.

One bans fracking and the other two discuss safe use of fracking water.

Don't let the jumble and jargon defeat you, this is really important for the basin and needs us to pay attention. This is one of those times when the devil is likely to be in the details.

Audience members -- all of those who spoke were pro-ban -- took a dim view of the prospect of somehow simultaneously banning fracking while allowing basin water to be used in the fracking process.

DRBC staff did not solve this conundrum either during the meeting or afterward, but Steve Tambini, executive director of the DRBC, did say several times during the meeting that the audience shouldn't "pre-judge" the regulations and went so far as to suggest that others (the states, the Environmental Protection Agency) might have regulations that the DRBC would have to address in any comprehensive fracking regulations.

The DRBC itself -- according to the FAQ it developed on this issue -- has existing regulations that apply to many wastewater discharges in the basin as well as to requests for inter-basin transfer of water and wastewater. Revisions of those regulations will be developed by the executive director and presented to the public and the commissioners on or before the Nov. 30 deadline.

Without a clear signal from the DRBC, it's fair to assume that either of those interpretations could be valid.

Either the audience interpretation is valid -- that the new draft regulations will allow basin water to be used for some aspect of the fracking process. Or, the alternative, that the draft wastewater regulations would be modifying some rules and regulations that already exist. That they would in effect, support the fracking ban.

Big difference.

We'll have to wait to see those draft regulations due no later than Nov. 30. Only then will we know what the new regulations will be.

You can get up to speed by checking here:

and there's a way to get news releases from DRBC here:

Don't let the jumble and jargon defeat you, this is really important for the basin and needs us to pay attention. This is one of those times when the devil is likely to be in the details.


Mark Klotz, representing New York's commissioner, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, voted in favor. That's not surprising, since New York State has already banned fracking.

Kara Coats, representing Delaware's commissioner, Gov. John Carney, voted in favor. When Carney was a U.S. representative, he was one of the driving forces that made the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act a reality last year. (Its funding, through the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, is still in the budget process.)

Jennifer Orr, representing Pennsylvania's commissioner, Gov. Tom Wolf, voted in favor. Wolf came out in support of a ban on fracking in the Delaware watershed in early 2017.

Dan Kennedy, representing New Jersey's commissioner, Gov. Chris Christie, abstained. Christie is not often in the pro-environment camp.

Lieutenant Colonel Kristen N. Dahle, representing the federal government, voted against the draft resolution. It should be the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal government's representative. On issues like this, the USACE takes no position but takes its cue from the White House.

The vote being three in favor, one abstention and one against, carried. On these matters a simple majority will carry the day.

It might be a foreshadowing of the future vote.


In the meantime, here are some of the people and organizations who spoke against allowing basin water to be used in the fracking process, or fracked water to make its way back into the basin.

One of the most passionate was Ann Dixon, from Philadelphia, who -- as you can see from her photograph, did what many of the speakers did -- and wore her sign as a scarf, because the DRBC has prohibited signs at its meetings. The scarf reads: We pledge to defend the Delaware.

Dixon spoke about climate change and its ever-increasing threat referring to our recent experiences with hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

"For years, there have been no accurate maps of the coast of Louisiana because it is losing an acre an hour due to rising seas," she said, and then repeated to make sure we understood: "An acre an hour!"

Continuing her examples with Arizona's experience this summer when flights were cancelled in Phoenix because certain planes could not fly when the temperature was over 120 degrees. "Too hot to fly."

And, "Nine states are on fire!" she said. "We need a total ban now. The shit has hit the fan. It's time to unplug the fan. Unplug our reliance on fossil fuels."

Another speaker, Jessica Roff, made the journey from Brooklyn, and referred to herself as a 4th generation New Yorker. She spoke about the uniqueness of the DRBC, which recognizes that "boundaries and borders don't matter to water."

She urged the DRBC to use its unique position to ban fracking and all related activities in the Delaware River Basin.

There were about 40 people who spoke. Tambini welcomed all speakers, and extended the time the commissioners stayed to hear from everyone, including those who hadn't signed up in advance.

I'm sure I might not have gotten all the names, but here's a summary, including, where available the organization the speaker represented and a link to the organization. I'm sure they'd welcome people interested in this issue.

One of the first and foremost was Tracy Carluccio, the deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Networkwho works with Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, and the whole river keeper network to keep an eye on the river and the basin.

Next up, another outspoken critic of the various ways our environment is threatened by pipelines or fracking or bad natural resource management was Jeff Tittel, program director for new Jersey's chapter of the Sierra Club. You can find out more here:

Barbara Arrindell, director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, spoke up for her Wayne County town of Damascus, Pa. Find out more here

Bucks (Pa.) Sierra Club Sharon Furlong…/southeastern/bucks-county-0

Berks Gas Truth Karen Feridun
Facebook: Berks Gas Truth

Clean Water Action David Pringle and Lisa Bradley

Catskill Mountainkeeper Wes Gillingham

Environment New Jersey Doug O'Malley

Environment America Megan DeSmedt

Natural Resources Defense Council Robert Friedman

Food and Water Watch, Pennsylvania Sam Bernhardt

Penn Future Abigail Jones


The DRBC and fracking story started when the DRBC announced -- in June 2008 -- that companies who were looking to extract natural gas would have to receive approval from the commission before it could process. The commissioners directed the staff to develop regulations in May 2010.

Lots of history here:…/pro…/natural/draft-regulations.html

Despite research and public hearings, the commissioners decided to postpone adoption of regulations in November 2011.

This is also from the DRBC's website: "To date (the commissioners) are continuing to confer to reach consensus on a path forward that provides for the development of a potentially valuable energy source while protecting the basin's vital water resources."

The vote taken yesterday re-starts a process that's been in limbo since 2011 -- what has been called a de facto moratorium: No fracking has been allowed awaiting regulations.

There's a wealth of information on the DRBC website:

Many of the important issues that face us as Americans are complicated and difficult -- and far away. Understanding fracking is certainly challenging but this decision will affect us not just in our river waters, but in our homes. No matter which way the regulations sort themselves out, we all have a stake in the outcome.

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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