September 21, 2017

Gov. Corbett Turns Up Pressure on Neighbors

Lobbies states to open up Delaware River basin for gas drilling
By Tim Darragh, The Morning Call, June 18, 2012

Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration has been lobbying neighboring states to approve regulations to open the Delaware River basin to natural gas drilling, a plan that came to a screeching halt in November when Corbett’s counterpart in Delaware said the proposal lacked sufficient public health protections.

The state’s push to get behind Marcellus Shale gas drilling, using a process known as fracking, is an attempt to revive proposed regulations developed by the Delaware River Basin Commission.

The commission, which regulates large uses of water like fracking in the watershed covering the eastern third of Pennsylvania, the upper Delaware area in New York, western New Jersey and most of Delaware, has blocked the practice in the absence of its own environmental regulations.

“That’s been a frustration since the November meeting was canceled,” said Corbett spokesman Patrick Henderson. “We have been having discussions with the DRBC staff as recently as this week.”

Pennsylvania officials also have been reaching out to colleagues in New Jersey and Delaware to “answer any technical questions they have,” Henderson said.

“It’s simply a matter of raising their comfort level and getting the three votes that we need” to adopt the DRBC regulations.

Pennsylvania may be getting an ally on the pro-drilling side, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly is considering a plan to permit natural gas drilling in five counties along the Pennsylvania border, as long as local communities approve.

The plan would be contingent on New York environmental regulators’ agreement, a move that is expected this summer, Bloomberg News has reported.

It would cover Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties.

“No final decision has been made, and no decision will be made until the scientific review is complete and we have all the facts,” Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

If limited drilling gets the green light in New York, that could provide the votes needed to pass the regulations.

Henderson said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was “very supportive” of the regulations last year.

Steve Rochette, a spokesman in the corps’ Philadelphia office said only: “The Army Corps of Engineers, in representing the administration’s position on the DRBC, will continue to work with the other commissioners on the technical aspects of the draft regulations.”

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell — whose state has no Marcellus Shale but is downriver from the formation — has not changed his opposition, said spokesman Brian Selander.

In November, Markell wrote a letter to the commission, saying that critical issues regarding well construction and operation had not been finalized and could be weakened.

“Once hydrofracturing begins in the basin, the proverbial ‘faucet’ cannot be turned off, with any damage to our freshwater supplies likely requiring generations of effort to clean up. In this case, it is more important to get it right, than to be fast,” Markell wrote.

Representatives of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not return a call or email for comment.

Corbett has been a strong backer of natural gas drilling.

The state has issued about 10,700 Marcellus Shale drilling permits since 2008 across the western and northern parts of Pennsylvania, according to Department of Environmental Protection records.

The DRBC has declined to discuss why it canceled the vote on the regulations, which its staff began developing in 2010.

Commission spokesman Clarke Rupert said members have “some unresolved issues” they are studying.

The commission does not have a new date for a vote on the proposed regulations, he said.