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Hydraulic Fracturing Debate Rages, as Proposed Drilling Rules for Delaware River Basin Unveiled

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Draft regulations that could ultimately allow hydraulic fracturing to commence in the Delaware River Basin have been released by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The DRBC estimates that there could one day be as many as 10,000 natural gas wells in the environmentally sensitive basin, which supplies water to several East Coast cities, including Philadelphia and New York City.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the industry is not required to disclose the chemicals – some of which are known to be hazardous – that make up their fracking fluids. Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals used in that fracking fluid could contaminate water supplies near drilling sites, and already, such drilling is suspected in several instances of water contamination around the country, including Pennsylvania.

According to a report on PhillyBurbs.com, the proposed rules focus on well siting, water withdrawal and wastewater disposal, PhillyBurbs said. Well fracturing – and other elements of well design, construction and operation – would remain largely the responsibility of state regulators.

The draft regulations have many opponents, including the governor of New York and various environmental groups. Opponents wanted a cumulative impact study to f be completed before rules were drafted and drilling begins.

The Delaware River Basin, which encompasses parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The DRBC was created in 1961 to address regional water conflicts, and oversees water quality and quantity issues in the 13,539-square-mile basin. The commission’s voting members include the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Much of the basin sets atop the natural gas rich Marcellus shale, which has been at the center of a drilling boom the past several years.

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