The Delaware River Basin Commission voted in late February to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas development in the large watershed that includes parts of four states, including eastern Pennsylvania.
The vote came more than 10 years after the commission placed a moratorium on fracking while it developed regulations on the process, and amid a lawsuit filed against the group by Pennsylvania Republican legislators and an eastern Pennsylvania township challenging that action.
Commission representatives of the four states with land that drains into the Delaware River – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York – voted in favor of the ban, while a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers abstained. The commissioners also voted to develop rules surrounding the transfer of fracking wastewater into and out of the basin.
The Delaware River is the longest un-dammed river in the United States east of the Mississippi, extending 330 miles from the confluence of its East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. to the mouth of the Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The river is fed by more than 2,000 tributaries, including 216 major ones, the largest being the Schuylkill and Lehigh rivers in Pennsylvania. The watershed contains 13,539 square miles in the four states.
"After careful analysis and consideration of the unique geographic, geologic and hydrologic characteristics of the Delaware River Basin, DRBC Commissioners acted today under the authority of the Delaware River Basin Compact to protect the water resources of the Basin, the source of drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians. Having supported this effort since I was a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, I am proud to join with other DRBC Commissioners in preserving the water resources of this unique region for generations to come," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in a statement.
The ban affects only drilling in Pennsylvania. Delaware and New Jersey do not have natural gas deposits and New York has banned fracking across the state. Hydraulic fracturing is a standard method for developing gas wells in the Marcellus and Utica plays in southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Republican Caucus in January challenging the moratorium claims that it is a taking of private property without compensation and exceeds the authority given the commission.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition was among industry organizations criticizing the decision, saying it violates private property rights and ignores sound science. Environmental advocacy groups in the Delaware Basin area were in strong support of the ban.