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Environmental groups claim victory; DRBC postponement clouds drilling future

By Fritz Mayer
November 22, 2011

REGION — Environmental groups claimed a huge victory on November 18, the day after the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) announced it had postponed the meeting to vote on the proposed new rules for hydraulic fracturing.

The DRBC said the reason for the postponement was to give the commission members more time to study the matter. But several environmental groups said the meeting was postponed because the votes to pass the rule weren’t there. Catskill Mountainkeeper posted in its website, “While all the facts are not yet in, it looks as if they cancelled because they just didn’t have the votes to approve.”

The DRBC is made up of representatives from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware as well as a federal representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to various press accounts, Joe Martens, the commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, had indicated on November 10, that New York was likely to vote no on the question.

It had been assumed by some that Governor Jack Markell of Delaware would vote against the adoption of the rules, and he confirmed that with a letter to the DRBC on November 18. He said, “Instead of beginning the exploration in the Delaware River Basin and hoping we get a proper regulatory framework in place after-the-fact, it is Delaware’s view the commission has an obligation to ensure that critical issues regarding well construction and operation are finalized first and not subject to subsequent dilution.”

It had also been assumed by most observers that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania would vote in favor of the adoption of the rules, and that drilling permits could then be issued.

So, is the representative from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which is answerable to President Barack Obama, holding things up? That’s not clear, but political commentators have noted that two weeks ago the Obama administration, which had previously backed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, called for a new review that would push approval of the line back at least until 2013. That came on the heels of an enormous protest in front of the White House about the matter.

Additionally, high profile activists like Mark Ruffalo and Josh Fox are urging people to lobby the White House and ACE to prevent the DRBC from moving forward with fracking.