By Liz Johnson, correspondent
Bucks County Courier Times
Posted Feb 15, 2017 at 12:01 AM
Fossil fuel is dead. That was the message of several hundred protesters who jammed the auditorium of the Visitors Center at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Upper Makefield on Wednesday where the Delaware River Basin Commission held its monthly meeting.
The group was spurred on by two agenda items. One was a permit request from Eastern Shore Natural Gas Co. to install a nearly 8-mile pipeline through DRBC territory spanning Chester County; Cecil County, Maryland, and New Castle County, Delaware.
“Say no to all new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Steve Bacher of Newtown Township.
Peter Winslow of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light Group echoed his concern, saying that “climate disruption is a moral issue.”
“We oppose any new fossil fuel infrastructure,” he said.
But the more pressing issue for the simmering crowd was a page in the DRBC’s soon-to-be-adopted two-year water resource plan that instructs staff to carry out the commission’s natural gas regulations.
Currently, the DRBC has no such regulations. It started to address this issue in 2010 when fracking – an extraction process that uses high velocity water and chemicals to shatter bedrock, freeing up trapped natural gas held in its fractures – became an environmental concern.
The DRBC held a series of hearings and received more than 10,000 comments. In 2013, the commission chair said the board needs more time to study the issue and has since refused to issue any permits for fracking until rules are adopted. Last May, the Wayne Land and Mineral Group hoped to move the commission along by filing a complaint in federal court but no hearing date has been set. So far, the DRBC has remained mum.
But the water resource plan that the DRBC intends to vote on at its meeting next month has environmentalists concerned that it could be a signal the agency’s fracking moratorium is fracturing.
“We are under siege from the fracking industry,” Wayne County Oscar-nominated filmmaker and journalist Josh Fox told the commissioners. Fox is known for his documentary “Gasland,” which focuses on communities across the country affected by natural gas drilling. “We’re going to oppose all these projects.”
“Fracking has ravaged our communities,” said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
Residents from all four states covered by the DRBC – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware – packed the 248-seat auditorium, cheering on preselected spokespeople from their state such as Jeff Tittle, president of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
“The citizens of New Jersey want a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin now,” he said in unison with a chorus of New Jersey residents. The phrase was echoed by each state contingency.
Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum pointedly asked DRBC Executive Director Steven Tambini if the change in policy in the new water resource plan was his doing, citing that the majority of state governors in the commission are outspoken opponents of fracking.
“I ask you Executive Director Tambini, are you the one pushing for the regulations that would lift protections from drilling and fracking operations in my watershed?” she said.
Tambini put everyone on notice early on that the meeting was to solicit public comments only, not to answer questions.
“This is an opportunity for comment, not for dialogue,” he said.
The next DRBC meeting is set for 10:30 a.m. March 15 at the Washington Crossing Visitors Center when the water resource plan and the Eastern Shore Natural Gas permit will likely be voted on.
Anyone interested in commenting can write to the Commission Secretary, P.O. Box 7360, 25 Cosey Road, West Trenton, NJ 08628; fax comments to 609-883-9522; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Written comments on a docket item should also be sent to David Kovach, manager of project review at email@example.com.