See-saw wait for permanent ban on fracking continues

Representatives of the DRBC commissioners DC
Representatives of the DRBC commissioners gather at Washington's Crossing, Pa, for its meeting on Dec. 12, 2018. From left to right, Kenneth J. Warren, General Counsel; Steve Tambini, executive director, DRBC; Jeffrey L. Hoffman, New Jersey; LTC. Kristen N. Dahle, U.S.A.C.E., federal representative; Kenneth Kosinski, New York; Aneca Atkinson, Pennsylvania; and Bryan Ashby, Delaware PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Sometimes, there's an element of a see-saw (slow-moving, of course) at meetings of the Delaware River Basin Commission.

There's the long-standing "muling" that the commissioners have been doing about whether to ban fracking in the basin. A decision on that is expected... sometime...? It's been eight years since a de facto moratorium (not to be confused with an actual ban) has been in force, and now there's a full set of Democratic governors in the four basin states.

Here's the see-saw: The DRBC seems eager to list the perils of fracking in its proposed rule-making, as seen here:

The Commission has determined that high volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the water resources of the Delaware River Basin and to Special Protection Waters of the Basin, considered by the Commission to have exceptionally high scenic, recreational, ecological, and/or water supply values. Controlling future pollution by prohibiting such activity in the Basin is required to effectuate the Comprehensive Plan, avoid injury to the waters of the Basin as contemplated by the Comprehensive Plan and protect the public health and preserve the waters of the Basin for uses in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan.

Yet, as part of the proposed rule-making it's also setting forth rules about how much fracking wastewater can be allowed into the basin and how much basin water can be exported for fracking.

If fracking is bad, one might assume that its related activities are too?

Looking over Wes Gillingham's shoulder DC
Looking over Wes Gillingham's shoulder (he's the associate director of Catskill Mountainkeeper) at the long list (104,805) of signers of the petition to ban fracking on one of many presentations to the DRBC by a host of environmental groups opposing fracking. Holding the other end is Rob Friedman, from the Natural Resources Defense Council. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Seeing a way to highlight their concern about all the fracking issues, 15 environmental groups celebrated the eighth anniversary of this de facto fracking moratorium by submitting a petition with 104,805 signatures to the DRBC at its meeting on Dec. 12, 2018. In part the petition read:

We, the undersigned, call for the Delaware River Basin Commission to enact a permanent ban on natural gas drilling and fracking and all related actives (including drilling; fracking; fracking wastewater storage processing and discharges; and water withdrawals for drilling and fracking) throughout the Delaware River Watershed.

Berks Gas Truth

Bucks Environmental Action

Catskill Mountainkeeper

Clean Water Action NJ


Damascus Citizens for Sustainability

Delaware Riverkeeper Network

Delaware Sierra Club

Environment New Jersey

Food and Water Watch

Natural Resources Defense Council

NJ Sierra Club

Pennsylvania Chapter Sierra Club

Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter

Think Ocean Delaware

fullsizeoutput DC
Beth Ann Pollack, from Levittown, Pa.: "The most wonderful Christmas present of all would be for all of the basin to be kept free of all fracking related activities." PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

And in more political moves and counter moves on the fracking issue, the results are in from the audit demanded by the Pennsylvania General Assembly of the DRBC and the SRBC (Susquehanna River Basin Commission). Pennsylvania lawmakers have largely been in support of the fracking industry, and this request can be seen as inspired by the likelihood of a fracking ban in the Delaware watershed.

The Pennsylvania auditor general Eugene DePaquale is a Democratic appointee of the recently re-elected Democratic governor, Tom Wolf.

Are you hearing the squeak of the see-saw yet? Or maybe a better metaphor would be a tennis match? Advantage: Pennsylvania General Assembly (by getting the auditor to hold the two commissions' feet to an imagined financial fire.)

De Paquale gave the SRBC a spanking over some liquor expenses, but largely gave the DRBC what might be called a passing grade except for the areas listed. Here's a link to both of the auditor's reports. 

Here's the DRBC's summary 

But the see-saw fell off its beam at this: The auditor general reprimanded the states (all of them except Delaware) for NOT fulfilling their financial commitments to the DRBC. I wrote about this here  

So, I suppose it's back at you, Pennsylvania General Assembly. Turns out, the auditor general finds you owe the DRBC some money. Would that be, in tennis terms, Advantage DRBC?

To be fair there are still voices that find the auditor general's audit to be unsatisfactory, calling it a whitewash. Here's a link 

Speaking of all things white: What are the chances of a White Christmas?

Amy Shallcross, the DRBC's manager of Water Resource Operations, suggested we discover for ourselves by checking out the historic probability at this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site.

For my part of the watershed, it looks to be about a 40 percent chance. What's yours?

Washington's Crossing, Titusville, N.J. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE DC
Washington's Crossing, Titusville, N.J. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

And lastly, since we have so much time on our hands at this quiet time of year (?) remember to vote for the Delaware River as Pennsylvania's River of the Year. Voting is through Friday, Jan. 4. Vote at

Residents of New York, New Jersey and Delaware take note: You don't have to be  a Pennsylvania resident to vote!!

With that, to all a good night!!


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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