Delaware River panel still mum on gas drilling

Posted: September 13, 2012

Ten months after canceling a vote on natural gas regulations that would have allowed drilling in the Delaware River watershed, a commission with oversight of water issues in the region remained largely mum on what will happen next.

On Wednesday, at its fourth meeting since that canceled vote, none of the five members - representing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and the federal government - on the Delaware River Basin Commission offered comment on the matter.

Asked for an update after the meeting, commission chair Kelly Jean Heffner, deputy secretary for water management at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said only that "we believe we've completed our technical discussion. Now the individual jurisdictions will be sharing that information back with their folks."

Drilling opponents kept up pressure on the commission.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group, submitted a petition contending that the commission has jurisdiction over natural gas pipeline projects in the watershed, and should review them.

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum showed photos of a deforested section of the Lackawaxen River, a tributary of the Delaware, where a pipeline crossing was under construction.

She contends that the areas around such pipelines, especially where they cross a waterway, are so disturbed that they should be regulated.

During a midday break, about 20 people held a protest outside the commission's West Trenton headquarters, calling for a permanent ban on drilling in the watershed. They also delivered a letter reiterating that, signed by leaders of 170 organizations.

The commission enacted a moratorium in 2010, until regulations could be adopted.

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, about a dozen drilling opponents spoke, including representatives of the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, a northeastern Pennsylvania group.

"Gas drilling is not on the agenda" of the commission, said Doug O'Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey. "But certainly it is on the agenda of the gas industry. We know they are continuing to meet with governors across the region. It is critical for the DRBC to know this issue is not going away."

Contact Sandy Bauers

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