This week, the Delaware River Basin Commission (“DRBC”) released its final draft natural gas development regulations in anticipation of a final vote on whether the DRBC will adopt the regulations. The vote is scheduled for November 21, 2001. There is some reason to believe that the Commission vote may not be unanimous, which would be a rare occurrence. If adopted, the regulations will end a moratorium imposed on drilling for natural gas within the Delaware River watershed, which supplies water to Philadelphia and New York City. Since first introducing draft regulations in 2010, the DRBC received nearly 70,000 comments from the public, some of which were reportedly incorporated into subsequent drafts of the regulations.
The final draft regulations would permit the drilling of 300 wells within the watershed, provide setback requirements, and increase financial assurance requirements to, in certain cases, $5MM per well up to $25MM for multiple-well sites. State regulations will determine the construction and operation of individual wells and pads but water sources for well pads require approval by the DRBC. The regulations also limit the discharge and storage of wastewater and fracking fluid within the watershed. The DRBC plans to reassess the regulations after 18 months.
Several lawsuits have already been filed in connection with the DRBC’s attempt to regulate natural gas drilling, including a lawsuit filed by New York’s Attorney General and a lawsuit filed by the several environmental conservation organizations.
Among other things, the lawsuits seek compliance with federal environmental laws. If adopted, it is expected that the regulations themselves would be challenged.
The DRBC, which is comprised of one representative Commissioner from the federal government, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, is the agency responsible for protecting the waters of the Delaware River watershed under the Delaware River Basin Compact.