No wonder more than 800 protesters still converged on the War Memorial in Trenton on Monday, the planned day of the DRBC meeting. But instead of decrying the lifting of the moratorium, they were able to cheer this welcome delay as an interim victory, and rally in favor of keeping up the heat on the issue.
As likely "yes" votes for drilling in the 13,000-square-mile river basin, both Govs. Corbett and Christie need to take note of the heated and widespread public sentiment against drilling near the Delaware.
Indeed, it would be just as well if the basin commission never lifted its moratorium. The public-health stakes are simply too high, given the potential risk to the river and its tributaries from pollution if drillers are allowed to bring hydraulic fracturing rigs into the region.
The "fracking" process pumps a witches' brew of chemicals deep into the ground to force gas supplies to the surface. Despite rig accidents and scattered private wells turning up fouled in parts of Pennsylvania, the multinational drilling companies insist that fracking is safe.
As Markell told the commission, though, "Once hydrofracturing begins in the basin, the proverbial 'faucet' cannot be turned off, with damage to our freshwater supplies likely requiring generations of effort to clean up." That's a sensible outlook, and it argues for the basin commission to do more than just delay drilling for Marcellus Shale gas in the watershed.
The DRBC members should make the moratorium permanent, in the interest of protecting the viability of communities that are home to millions of people who look to the Delaware River for their very survival.
No matter how stringent the proposed rules and safeguards might prove, the threat to drinking-water supplies is too great to trust such oversight.
Surely, the federal Army Corps of Engineers - the fifth member of the commission - wouldn't take steps that might imperil so vital a natural resource. While the agency has not signaled its intention on lifting the moratorium, it should follow the example of Delaware and New York. And with no shale-gas fields to speak of in Jersey, Christie's sentiments should be just as solidly in support of public health.
As for Corbett, he's already proven his state will be driller-friendly to a fault. Thousands of rigs are in place, with thousands more expected across 26 counties. Keeping them out of the Delaware watershed won't impact the nation's energy future, nor industry profits. But it could save the region's water.