Agency to vote on fracking ban near Delaware River

Delaware River Watershed Image: Nicholas A. Tonelli

A regulatory agency that's responsible for the water supply of more than 13 million people in four states is scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposal to ban natural gas drilling and fracking in the watershed.

The Delaware River Basin Commission imposed what it said was a temporary moratorium on gas development more than a decade ago, citing the need to develop environmental regulations for the industry, before reversing course in 2017 and signalling it would enact a permanent ban.

The ban would apply to two counties in Pennsylvania's northeastern tip that are part of the nation's largest gas field, the Marcellus Shale. Nearly 13,000 wells have been drilled elsewhere in the vast Marcellus formation, turning Pennsylvania into the nation's No. 2 gas-producing state.

Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania as well as a landowners group have filed lawsuits challenging the commission's right to regulate gas development in the watershed.

Farmers and other landowners who had once leased their land to drilling companies have bitterly opposed the moratorium. Drilling opponents, meanwhile, have long contended that large-scale gas exploration could not be done safely so close to crucial waterways and renowned fisheries. The Delaware and its tributaries supply drinking water to Philadelphia and half the population of New York City.

Conservation officials once estimated that gas companies had more than 300 square miles of watershed land under lease. The drillers have long since pulled up stakes amid the longstanding moratorium.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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