TRENTON - The vote on natural gas drilling had been postponed, but more than 800 protesters converged on the War Memorial anyway Monday - to celebrate the delay and urge their allies to keep the pressure on.
The Delaware River Basin Commission was to have voted on regulations to allow drilling to proceed. Opponents had already organized busloads of protesters and received a permit from the state police, so they decided to proceed anyway, attracting speakers including the actors Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger, and the documentary filmmaker Josh Fox.
"I'm really happy we don't have to go to jail today," said Fox, director of the anti-drilling film Gasland. "This is much better. This is less tense." But he vowed to keep going, "and when it comes time to blockade the well sites, we'll blockade the well sites."
He held his cellphone to the microphone and said he was dialing Gov. Corbett's office to deliver a message from the crowd, but as it rang and rang, and no one answered, he said, "Oh, man, this is an indictment all its own, right?"
"I swear this worked right before I came on stage," he said. "OK, well, I think that says it all, doesn't it? There's nobody home in the Pennsylvania governor's office."
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley responded: "I will not comment on publicity stunts by self-serving publicity hounds."
The river basin provides drinking water for 15 million people, including Philadelphia and some of its suburbs. It encompasses land in four states - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. Each state is a member of the commission, as is the federal government, represented by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Although natural-gas development has flourished elsewhere in Pennsylvania, a moratorium is in place in the Delaware River basin until the commission adopts rules to govern the industry. Several northeastern Pennsylvania counties are in the basin; many residents there have signed leases with drilling firms and are eager for the income.
Daniel Whitten, vice president for strategic communications for America's Natural Gas Alliance, an industry advocacy group, did not comment directly on Monday's protest, but said, "We continue to believe that a science-based consideration of the facts surrounding natural-gas development will lead to a conclusion by the DRBC that this American resource can be and is developed safely and responsibly throughout this country. The net effect for communities in the Delaware River basin can be new jobs; economic benefits; and a clean, reliable source of energy at a time when all three are very much in need both in the region and nationally."
The alliance also referred calls to Scott Cline, a retired geologist and petroleum engineer who lives in Upstate New York and has been testifying for oil and natural-gas development.
He said the opponents were "basically totally misguided" because the DRBC had proposed state-of-the-art regulations "that employ all the best management practices."
"The benefits of developing our domestic shale-gas resources are just so phenomenal," he said. "The benefits so much outweigh any small incident that happens." He said protesters "just don't want fossil fuels in general, so they're going to make a big deal out of everything to try to stop it."
At Monday's rally, the crowd chanted, and many had anti-drilling signs - "Don't Drill the Delaware" and "Occupy Planet Earth." Some were topped by tiny models of the sun and a wind turbine, representing renewable power.
They also signed thank-you cards to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who announced last Thursday that Delaware's vote on the proposed rules would be a no. Shortly after that, the Monday meeting was canceled. Pennsylvania and New Jersey had been expected to vote yes, New York was a probable no, and that left the commission's federal representative with the deciding vote.
Janet Curley of New York City wrote, "Posterity will remember you kindly."
Carol Ward of Ardmore wrote, "I wish you could influence Gov. Corbett of PA to be such a wise person."
Joe Kuc of Wrightstown, Burlington County, who is retired and has six grandchildren, said he attended Monday's event because he was "worried about the water our kids are going to have in the future. Everything is about the buck today, not the future."
Many linked the DRBC's canceled meeting with other developments, such as President Obama's delay on a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline, intended to carry petroleum from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf Coast.
Craig Sautner of Dimock, Pa., where residents believe drillers have polluted wells, said that his water was contaminated by drilling and that a substitute supply was being removed Nov. 30. He said he wanted the governor and DEP officials "to come to Dimock and drink the water . . . take it home and every day give it to your kids to bathe in, and see how you like it."
He said he had been warned he would be arrested if he kept calling the governor - a daily occurrence - and the crowed chanted, "We'll call for you."
As she stood at the podium, the ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber wore the Heinz Award medal she recently won for environmental work. She has said that she would donate the $100,000 award to oppose natural-gas drilling. She told the crowd that the scientific evidence was "incomplete" and "still emerging," and the data were "troubling." Meanwhile, she said, "the benefit of doubt goes to our children, not to things that harm our children."
Winger, who owns land in Upstate New York, encouraged the crowd to expand its expertise "and bring the message out further." "Keep the fight up," Winger said, "because you guys did great."
After the rally, the protesters marched to the State House, which has offices for the governor and legislature.
Outside, some legislators who had voted for a statewide ban on horizontal fracturing joined the protesters. The ban passed overwhelmingly, but Gov. Christie vetoed it, asking the legislature for a one-year moratorium instead.
"This is what democracy looks like," the protesters chanted.
"Gov. Christie, you are on notice," Fox told the crowd. "You vote for fracking, you are outta here."
Christie said Monday that he had not yet decided how New Jersey would vote if and when the regulations were again proposed.