Public Hearings and a Vote on Fracking: Impact on NY and NJ

Updated: November 18, 2011 at 01:36 PM

Workers operate fracking machinery in Pennsylvania, where fracking has been allowed since 2008, but two critical votes are fast approaching, the results of which could allow for drilling in New York State and the Delaware River watershed. AP/Ralph Wilson.

On Nov. 18, the Delaware River Basin Commission — a multi-state agency responsible for the drinking water of 15 million people — suddenly cancelled a vote, scheduled for Nov. 21, on whether to pursue hydraulic fracking in the Delaware River watershed, reported the Wall Street Journal. The commission did not offer an explanation, though the cancellation comes on the heels of Delaware Gov. jack Markell’s announcement that he would vote against fracking.

Several important events are scheduled this week in the battle over hydraulic fracking in the Tri-State region. The first of four public hearings, where the public is invited to voice their opinions on the controversial source of energy in New York State, was held on the evening of Nov. 16 in Dansville, NY.

About 150 people spoke in a heated debate, reported North Country Public Radio. The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17 in Binghamton, NY.

Fracking is the controversial process of extracting natural gas from deep below the Earth’s surface by injecting chemicals and water into sheets of bedrock. Proponents say it can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and generate massive amounts of energy and tax revenue. Opponents argue that fracking is enviromentally toxic, socially unsustainable and thus hurtful to poor communities, and prone to weak regulation.

Additionally, there are disagreements over the amounts of energy and wealth fracking would actually produce in New York, reported WNYC.

While New York ‘s legislature will not vote whether to frack until the Department of Conservation completes its final report on the drilling technique next year, that doesn’t mean the state won’t be impacted before then.

On Nov. 21, the Delaware River Basin Commission was set to vote whether to frack in the Delaware River Watershed, a body of water that supplies drinking water to half the population of New York City. With that vote cancelled, the Delaware’s future is uncertain.

New York Public Hearing Begin

On Sept. 7, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation released the first full draft of its 1,537 page report on the economic benefits, environmental concerns and proposed regulations for hydraulic fracking. A 96 day public comment period began the day the report was released, allowing the public to offer its opinions electronically and by mail, which the Department of Environmental Conservation will use in creating the final version of its regulations, sometime in 2012. Once the New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation releases its revised regulations, New York’s legislature will vote whether to allow fracking in Upstate New York.

During the hearings, which began on Nov. 16, the public will express what is almost certainly bound to be a very vocal assortment of thoughts and emotions.

Here’s the schedule of public hearings:

  • Nov. 17: The Forum Theatre, 236 Washington Street, Binghamton, NY, 13901
  • Nov. 29: Sullivan County Community College, Seelig Theatre, 112 College Rd, Loch Sheldrake, NY 12759
  • Nov. 30: Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY, 10007

Map of the Delaware River Watershed, which provides municipal water to four states. The watershed supplies drinking water to half of New York City residents. Photo courtesy of

The Delaware River Watershed

The Delaware River Watershed brings water to 15 million people, including half of the residents in New York City, all of Philadelphia and other parts of Eastern Pennsylvania, and parts of New Jersey and Delaware. The Delaware River Basin Commission is the multi-state body that governs the watershed.  It is composed of elected representatives from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serves as the federal representative as well.  In commission needs three out of votes to make decisions. New York had previously announced its decision to vote “no” on fracking, and this week Delaware joined in opposing fracking.

Before the commission cancelled its Nov. 21 vote, it was widely assumed Pennsylvania and New Jersey would vote “yes,” but unknown what position the Army would take, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The commission was criticized by environmental groups for scheduling the vote without a public input process.

If the commission had approves the new regulations, drilling could have begun early next year in 300 wells. After 18 months, the commission would have had the option to expand the number of wells.

Fracking opponents criticized an original draft of regulations in 2010 for being too soft on the gas industry.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who has filed a federal lawsuit to halt drilling in the Delaware basin, said, “By issuing these modified draft regulations, the federal government continues to ignore New Yorkers’ concerns about the impact fracking may have on our environment, health and homes.”

On the morning of Nov. 21, thousands of people are still expected to demonstrate against fracking at the Patriots Theater War Memorial in Trenton, as they’ve been planning to do for several months, according to the clean water advocacy group Delaware River Keeper. In addition to being angry about threats to the environment, most of the anti-fracking activists are outraged that the new regulations weren’t given a public comment period.

Fracking proponents, on the other hand, say the new regulations are too strict and will make drilling virtually impossible. For example, while the 2010 regulations required gas companies to pay states $125,000 per well to cover any possible future environmental disasters, the new regulations raised the rate to $5 million per well, reported the Wall Street Journal.

MetroFocus will continue to report and update on the Delware River vote and the hearing in New York.  Follow MetroFocus on Twitter or subscribe to our RSS feed to keep up to date.

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