A gold-rush approach to high-pressure drilling for natural gas has no place in Pennsylvania. Especially not in the watershed that quenches the thirst of 15 million people in the Philadelphia region and beyond.
So, it's troubling that, despite their own moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River basin, interstate regulators are moving ahead on preliminary requests by some drillers to pull millions of gallons of water from rivers to the north.
With its drilling moratorium pending the enactment of what must be stringent safety regulations, the Delaware River Basin Commission remains the best line of defense against bringing drilling rigs to the region.
In ways that are yet to be fully understood, the process of hydraulic-fracture drilling, or fracking, poses a threat to drinking water. For one thing, the existing water-treatment infrastructure cannot keep up with cleansing the polluted wastewater that's a by-product. In communities that rely on wells, a new report that methane gas was found in most of 60 wells tested near drilling sites also should be a major concern.
The commission's explanation for granting one request for water rights, with three more under review, is that its staff must keep up with the expected workload from such requests. Also, drillers cannot draw any water until the DRBC issues its regulations.
Still, it would make more sense for the commission to focus first on determining whether gas drilling can be done safely in the Delaware basin, if at all.
The arrival of this industry with its potential boost to the state's economy has been marred too often by a drill-now, regulate-later mentality. It wasn't until several years into the gas boom that Harrisburg boosted drilling fees and strengthened safeguards.
This week, the state's largest operator - Chesapeake Energy Corp. - agreed to a record $1.1 million fine for contaminating private water supplies in Bradford County, and for a tank fire at a well site in Washington County.
Such tough enforcement sends the right signal to an industry that says it prides itself on being environmentally responsible. The goal should be to avoid mishaps, which is why the Delaware basin regulators, who represent Gov. Corbett and the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, should move slowly.
With the push to expand drilling, it's even more vital that legislators enact higher fees on drillers to help both host communities and the rest of the state cope with the stresses put on infrastructure and the environment.