The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) begins today mandatory public
hearings on their proposals to expand regulatory oversight and fees on the
development of deep shale gas extraction within the Delaware River watershed.
Although seemingly well-intentioned, the draft regulations call into question
the motives and bias of the commission’s Executive Director whose sole
discretion it is to have these draft regulations published. The process can only be viewed as fatally flawed because there is no balance between the resource protection responsibility of the DRBC and it’s job to find a way to safely develop watershed resources.
Reading the draft regulations takes me back to my environmental activist days,
before my conversion and degree in Environmental Resource Management. This is
exactly how I would have written regulations were I motivated to shut down local drilling in the face of the facts. They provide just the right feel-good
political cover that plays so well in the media, sound like they could be
reasonable, but truthfully have no relationship to the facts or our scientific
understanding of the physical and environmental processes relevant to fracking.
The DRBC’s hodgepodge of proposed barriers have been amateurishly thrown
together to achieve a de facto development ban. Glaringly, there’s no
consideration for the unintended consequences of any self-loathing drill owner
who supposedly would try to put an application together to meet these
demands…perhaps that’s because the DRBC doesn’t expect anyone to even bother.
The regulations conflate alarmism with reality, using as a pillar for their
existence the volumes of water used in the natural gas extraction process known
as fracking. The argument of course is a red herring more befitting the annals
of astroturf than any scientific journal. Not only are the water amounts we’re
talking about miniscule when put into perspective (lifetime water use for a well equals about half the average rainfall that would hit its wellpad in a single average year, or what NYC uses in a few minutes), but it begs the question whether these regulations are necessary or not given that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, for example, requires on an ongoing basis the recycling to the watershed of an additional 15 percent of that water.
And this of course is the big question: why would the DRBC need to expand it’s
reach to do a second time what the governments of Pennsylvania, New York, New
Jersey, and Delaware are accomplishing on their own if it were not to usurp
their authority? At least those governments are accountable, for real, to the
people the DRBC says it represents.
The DRBC board should see these proposed regulations for what they are, a
blanket power grab by an antidevelopment individual looking expand their budget.
The board should insist that the DRBC stop being activists for their pet beliefs
and represent all stakeholders as they were chartered. Step one should be to
rewrite these regulations to describe how the DRBC will help the states to
develop their gas resources safely and ensure that the law is being faithfully
followed. That would be to everyone’s benefit.
Matt Balazik, Managing Director, Pennsylvania Commercial Action Network