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April 19, 2014
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Shutting out Public from Gas Drilling Decisions, press release from environmental groups


Organizations from throughout the Delaware River Watershed cried “foul” today because the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) issued what it termed as “modified” natural gas development regulations on November 8, 2011 without any opportunity for public comment, input, or testimony concerning the changes to the draft regulations (www.drbc.net). DRBC released a draft of its proposed rules in December 2010 with a public comment period that closed April 15, 2011. A record number of comments were received by the agency on the draft - 69,800 comments - breaking all records for public involvement.

Since then they have been reviewing the comments and announced last month that they would be voting on the draft regulations 10:00am -12:00pm on November 21, 2011 at a special meeting at the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ and that there would be no public hearing and no opportunity for public input into the new version of the regulations. A vote to approve gas regulations would lift the current moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin.

“DRBC is slamming the door in the public’s face and it’s simply unacceptable. It’s a gross violation of the public trust not to hear what people have to say about these changed regulations; the deep and unprecedented interest that people have shown to gas drilling is undeniable and our Watershed’s health and future is at stake”, said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

"The Upper Delaware River is a nationally recognized ecological treasure and because of its pristine nature is able to provide clean drinking water for millions of people. Now we have the DRBC proposing how to trash it!" said Wes Gillingham Program Director for Catskill Mountainkeeper. "They are shutting out the people who's quality of health depends on this river, through a politicized process that is driven the oil and gas industry. It is outrageous."

"They are using this process to weaken the regulations and make them even worse. What they are doing is unconscionable. This is an abuse of power that blocks the right of the public to have a say in a matter that will directly affect their lives," said Jeff Tittel, Director, New Jersey Sierra Club.

“The New York portion of the Delaware River Basin provides fifty percent of the pristine, unfiltered water that nine million New Yorkers rely on daily," said Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper Watershed Program Director. "The DRBC should not vote on fracking regulations that threaten this irreplaceable water supply in the absence of the environmental review it was required to conduct and without allowing citizens to weigh in on its last minute revisions to those regulations. By cutting corners and rushing the process, the Commission is ignoring its legal obligations to the public and to the water resources of the Basin it was formed to protect”, concluded Hudson.

“The public is getting stiffed by this decision. The public deserves to comment on these new proposed fracking rules – not to be iced out,” said Doug O’Malley, Field Director for Environment New Jersey. “This is the biggest decision to face the Delaware since the Tocks Island Dam, and the DRBC should allow public comment.”

"Apparently DRBC cares more about Big Oil than the public trust. They're borrowing gags and blind folds from the fossil fuel industry to keep us in the dark and from speaking about changes to the rules just as Exxon doesn't want us to know about, or act against, the secret toxic formula it wants to literally pump into our water. Will Governor Christie let them get away with it?" said campaign director David Pringle NJ Environmental Federation.

“The Commission (DRBC) continues to play politics with writing regulations for allowing hydro-fracking in the Delaware River Basin. This river basin cannot be subjected to this abuse. We demand that the commission employ the relevant science that exists about fracking. All of the available geological scientific reporting confirms that fracking will release naturally existing toxic and radioactive materials that will migrate from the deep formations through natural and induced fractures which create pathways for contamination. This happens every single time a well is fracked. The DRBC is a multi-state and federal commission that is required to comply with NEPA and should not have to be sued to do so. Regulations will not stop the industrialization of the watershed and contamination of its resources,” said Joe Levine, NYH2O of New York.

“The Delaware River is as clean as it is today in part because of the Basin Commission's hard work over many decades - and in part because of citizen involvement demanding that the Basin and the River flow into the future as a clean and healthy sustainer of life. Why would the Basin Commission endanger the River, the public today, and the future by approving gas drilling regulations they admit should be informed by a study of cumulative impacts when this study has not been done and the public is being removed from the process?” said Barbara Arrindell, Director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, PA.

The voting members of the DRBC - Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY), Governor Chris Christie (NJ), Governor Jack Markell (DE), and Governor Tom Corbett (PA), as the Governors of the four states that drain to the Delaware River and Colonel Christopher Larsen of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the federal representative - have been receiving a barrage of letters and phone calls over the past two months since the November 21 meeting was set, including a virtual march on the DRBC through social media and call-in days to voting members’ offices. President Barack Obama as the elected federal official has also been receiving the communications. Several hundred people are expected to attend the DRBC Meeting to protest DRBC’s consideration of the commencement of gas drilling, traveling from throughout the 13,000 square mile basin, including buses from as far as 5 hours away.

Public debate has raged over the past 3 years in the Watershed due to the environmental impacts of gas drilling where it is occurring and continuing revelations that drilling and fracking is not safe and is causing hundreds of pollution incidents. The DRBC has not done comprehensive environmental analyses to assess the immediate and cumulative impacts of natural gas development on the water resources of the Delaware River Basin, water supply for over 15 million people, including New York City, Philadelphia and large populations in all four watershed states, jeopardizing this sole source of water.

Signing groups: Catskill Mountainkeeper, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Environment New Jersey, Hudson Riverkeeper, NJ Environmental Federation, New Jersey Sierra Club, NYH2O

The November 21, 2011 DRBC vote

The Commissioners have scheduled the meeting early in the morning, in Trenton, N.J. Buses are leaving areas at 5, and 6 in the morning, though, and it could get interesting, despite their attempt to limit the turnout, and to forbid comment.

I have not read the document cover to cover, but several things jump out screaming. The first is that these regulations allow huge, open air, waste fluid pits, which is flat out unacceptable. First, the toxic flowback must be stored on the pad in steel tanks, then they can be trucked? piped (snaking along roads in PVC pipe?), to a central holding pond? Anyone living near that holding pond will suffer immensely, just look at what Stephanie Hallowich's family went through in western PA, for a couple of years.

Next is the reduction of setbacks from wetlands, streams and such from the originally proposed 500' to a now, 300'. Who got paid what to get this through?

Then the DRBC defers to a state like PA concerning the drilling and pad related regulations? PA has a track record that makes a reader sick, let alone anyone living and breathing near an extraction site. The fact that PA DEP recently allowed Cabot Oil & Gas to stop supplying potable water to the families whose water wells the company poisoned states very loudly whose side and agenda PA DEP, and the Corbett Administration, which has received over $1.6 million in campaign contributions from gas and oil extractors, are on.

Governor Christie of N.J. will probably be the second vote to allow the regulations, despite the overwhelming vote of both houses of the legislature in N.J. to ban such drilling and frac'ing in that state.

The vote will probably come in at 3 to 2, and the Army Corps of Engineers, representing the federal component, will most likely be the swing vote. There are several lawsuits pending which demand that the DRBC be compelled to follow the National Environmental Policy Act's requirement that federal agencies undertake a cumulative environmental impact study prior to permitting such industrial activity. What we have been presented with instead of such study, is a proposal to allow open air industrial experimentation upon the watershed and population.

The Delaware River Basin becomes a shale gas extraction laboratory, and the residents become guinea pigs for an 18 month period during which up to 300 well pads may be cleared, and up to 300 wells may be drilled and frac'ed. During this period, the DRBC and Commissioners may evaluate the impacts that are created in our precious watersheds for 15 million people. This experiment is not a study, it is an experiment allowed to be conducted upon the population, and our water, land and air.

This could get interesting. Some people might actually wake up?

I would love to attend, but

I would love to attend, but my arthritis. Anyway it seems such a moot point. It looks like the NWPOA was just too strong. Maybe they will pass us by and everything will be alright. One can only hope. Did Ms. Keesler win the election? I have not seen any results. I do wish this paper would print the results of all the local elections so we could see which side is winning. Thank you and God bless.

DRBC Responses to Comments . . .

. . . will be issued along with the Commissioners’ adoption of final rules, so we have no idea how DRBC staff and Commissioners (their reps) responded to nearly 70,000 public comments we took the time and trouble to research and submit -- until it's too late. If their Responses are bogus or wrong or unacceptable in various ways, the decision will have been made -- too bad for us! They can say anything and we have no recourse to correct them or expose their illogical doubletalk. This is not transparent democracy. They are acting like totalitarians! Their Responses will be interesting to read (after the fact, water under the bridge as an academic exercise) to see the load of PR **** DRBC and staff shovels at us to worm their way around certain obvious questions -- just to pick a couple out of 70,000 such as why did the DRBC (wisely) propose a comprehensive cumulative environment impact study of shale gas drilling operations' effects on the Delaware River watershed and when "there was no money" they kept going anyway? If they thought a study was necessary to inform their rule-making, that simply means rule-making should not be finalized and drilling should not proceed until study money is found. And why not wait for the EPA study due in preliminary form at end of 2012? No sensible answer available but there's an unspoken understanding among many that DRBC Commissioners are rushing this industrial invasion, acting politically on behalf of the gas industry who contributed in massive amounts to their election campaigns, using industry propaganda of jobs, supposed "economic prosperity" and fat leases as rationales for their absurd decision. They can say and do anything as long as they attach the word "jobs" to it. Full-tilt shale gas production including massive heavy truck traffic will be good for some and bad for others (mostly bad for others), splitting townships, ruining drinking water, air, recreational tourism and property values (not to mention "quiet nights and dark skies"), leaving the area industrialized like Bradford County is today and overall far worse off once the bust comes after the boom.

As Josh Fox has recently stated, and I agree, we should put the president and four governors on notice who serve as DRBC Commissioners: "If you vote yes to approve the new DRBC regulations and allow gas drilling in this magnificent watershed, you cannot have our votes in 2012 or whenever you next face re-election."

Join us for a huge protest rally at the DRBC in Trenton on Nov 21, 8 am (info, bus and car-pool arrangements at Occupy DRBC) to give them a piece of our mind!

Well, I guess it's all over.

Well, I guess it's all over. But at least we tried. I would sell my house and move but apparently it isn't worth anything anymore.