DRBC Update: When Will New Rules Come to a Vote?

Delaware River BasinLarge areas of the Marcellus Shale play not only have state oversight and regulation of drilling, but also oversight from two quasi-governmental organizations: the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). Wells drilled in an area covered by the SRBC must go through an approval process with the SRBC first. The SRBC gets to oversee major industrial activities (not just gas drilling) anywhere in the region of tributaries—creeks and rivers—that flow into the Susquehanna River that starts near Cooperstown and flows all the way to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

The SRBC meets regularly, considers requests for drilling and water withdrawals from rivers and streams, and acts on those requests in a timely manner. Not so with the DRBC.

The DRBC has not been able to get its act together and there is no gas drilling in DRBC-controlled areas to the frustration of landowners with leases. The DRBC services the region where tributaries flow into the Delaware River, which starts as two branches in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York and runs through Philadelphia, eventually emptying into the Delaware Bay between the states of Delaware and New Jersey. The DRBC was set to vote on new drilling guidelines last November, but canceled the vote when it became apparent there was not enough support among the five voting members (see this MDN story).

What’s been going on at the DRBC since that time, and when might we see drilling go forward?

The agency that controls natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin hasn’t revealed much since a vote on proposed regulations was canceled in November.

On Wednesday, the DRBC door cracked open a little.

Lt. Col. Philip M. Secrist of the Army Corps of Engineers, the commission’s federal member, said that ever since the canceled vote, "the commissioners have continued work on those regulations."

"Specifically, using sound science, the commissioners are still reviewing the proposed regulations . . . to ensure that they will be protective of the water resource," he said. "We do not have a firm date for those proposed regulations coming to a vote."

"But we are in discussions and are working together as a commission. I know that’s on a lot of folks’ minds. That’s where we’re at, at this point in time."

None of the other commission members – representatives of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, the four states with land in the basin – commented during the meeting in West Trenton, N.J. All declined to do so afterward.*

Not sure you can read much into it, except that work does continue and at some point there will be a vote and hopefully drilling can begin in DRBC-controlled areas.

*Philadelphia Inquirer (Mar 8, 2012) – Del. River Basin panel still reviewing proposed rules for natural gas drilling