What is going on at the Delaware River Basin Commission?
The agency that controls natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin hasn't revealed much since a vote on proposed regulations was canceled in November.
On Wednesday, the DRBC door cracked open a little.
Lt. Col. Philip M. Secrist of the Army Corps of Engineers, the commission's federal member, said that ever since the canceled vote, "the commissioners have continued work on those regulations."
"Specifically, using sound science, the commissioners are still reviewing the proposed regulations . . . to ensure that they will be protective of the water resource," he said. "We do not have a firm date for those proposed regulations coming to a vote."
"But we are in discussions and are working together as a commission. I know that's on a lot of folks' minds. That's where we're at, at this point in time."
None of the other commission members - representatives of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York, the four states with land in the basin - commented during the meeting in West Trenton, N.J. All declined to do so afterward.
The delay has rankled some. "Pennsylvanians have waited far too long for the opportunity to responsibly develop our abundant clean-burning natural gas resources in this region which remain unnecessarily under DRBC's lock-and-key," said president Kathryn Klaber of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group. "As President Obama recently said, natural gas is proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy. We need common sense solutions, not continued foot-dragging."
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the commission lacks scientific rigor.
Ever since the commission first proposed regulations in December 2010, her group has argued that there should be a full environmental assessment of the potential effects of natural gas development in the basin, including a cumulative impact study.
"Until they do that, this is a waste of time," she said. "The cumulative impacts are key. It's never going to be one well or two wells. It's going to be an industrialization of the watershed."
The commission has sought federal funding for the analysis, but it never materialized.
The commission itself is increasingly strapped. The federal government has not paid its predetermined "fair share" funding for more than a decade. New York has steadily reduced its amount for several years. Pennsylvania recently froze appropriations for this year's budget and likely will not make three quarterly payments to the commission.
The DRBC has placed a moratorium on drilling in the basin, placing rich Marcellus Shale deposits in the upper watershed off limits, until regulations to govern natural gas development are adopted.