The DRBC is a federal-interstate compact government agency that was formed by concurrent legislation enacted in 1961 by the United States and the four basin states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware). Its five members include the basin state governors and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who serves as the federal representative. The commission has legal authority over both water quality and water quantity-related issues throughout the basin.


DRBC logo.

Natural Gas Drilling in the
Delaware River Basin

October 15, 2010 Update:
The draft natural gas regulations are not yet ready for public distribution. The commissioners are working with staff to continue refining the draft regulations to ensure protection of basin waters while minimizing regulatory duplication. The draft regulations will likely be published in November or December 2010, and will be accompanied by a public rulemaking process. This process will entail two public hearings and a written comment period.


Marcellus Shale Formation in the DRB map.

Extent of Marcellus Shale Formation
in the Delaware River Basin


Much of the new drilling interest taking place in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York is targeted at reaching the natural gas found in the Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies about 36 percent of the Delaware River Basin.  Because Marcellus Shale is considered a tight geologic formation, natural gas deposits were not previously thought to be practically and economically mineable using traditional techniques.  New horizontal drilling and extraction methods, coupled with higher energy costs, have given energy companies reason to take a new interest in mining the natural gas deposits within the Marcellus Shale.

However, these new extraction methods require large amounts of fresh water to fracture the formation to release the natural gas.  A significant amount of water used in the extraction process is recovered, but this "frac water" includes natural gas and chemicals added to facilitate the extraction process, as well as brine and other contaminants released from the formation.

Why Is The DRBC Involved?

The DRBC is a federal-interstate compact government agency that was formed by concurrent legislation enacted in 1961 by the United States and the four basin states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware). Its five members include the basin state governors and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who serves as the federal representative. The commission has legal authority over both water quality and water quantity-related issues throughout the basin.

In connection with natural gas drilling, the commission has identified three major areas of concern:

  1. Gas drilling projects in the Marcellus Shale or other formations may have a substantial effect on the water resources of the basin by reducing the flow in streams and/or aquifers used to supply the significant amounts of fresh water needed in the natural gas mining process.

  2. On-site drilling operations may potentially add, discharge or cause the release of pollutants into the ground water or surface water.

  3. The recovered "frac water" must be treated and disposed of properly.

DRBC Eliminates Review Thresholds for Gas Extraction Projects in Shale Formations in Delaware Basin's Special Protection Waters

DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier on May 19, 2009 announced a determination notifying natural gas extraction project sponsors that they may not commence any natural gas extraction project located in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin's Special Protection Waters without first applying for and obtaining commission approval.

"This determination explains DRBC regulatory requirements on an interim basis and asserts commission review over all aspects of natural gas extraction projects in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin's Special Protection Waters, regardless of the amount of water withdrawn or the capacity of domestic sewage treatment facilities accepting fracking wastewater," Collier said.

In taking this action, Collier considered and determined that as a result of water withdrawals, wastewater disposal, and other activities, natural gas extraction projects in shale formations may individually or cumulatively affect the water quality of Special Protection Waters by altering their physical, biological, chemical or hydrological characteristics. This finding is in accordance with Section 2.3.5 B.18 of the commission's Rules of Practice and Procedure, which provide that any project "that the Executive Director may specially direct by notice to the project sponsor or land owner as having a potential substantial water quality impact on waters classified as Special Protection Waters" may be required to undergo review.

"The intent behind this executive director determination is to provide directional signals, not put up roadblocks," Collier said. "“Each of these activities, if not properly performed, may cause adverse environmental effects on water resources. The bottom line for the DRBC is to ensure that proper environmental controls are provided to safeguard our basin's water resources that are used by 15 million people."

Most of the shale formations that may be subject to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques requiring large volumes of water in the basin are located within the drainage area to DRBC's designated Special Protection Waters (SPW). The commission's SPW program is designed to prevent degradation in streams and rivers considered to have exceptionally high scenic, recreational, ecological, and/or water supply values through stricter control of wastewater discharges, non-point pollution control, and reporting requirements. Coverage of the DRBC's SPW anti-degradation regulations includes the 197-mile non-tidal Delaware River from Hancock, N.Y. south to Trenton, N.J. and the land draining to this stretch.

Under this determination, a natural gas extraction project encompasses the drilling pad upon which a well intended for eventual production is located, all accompanying facilities and related activities, and all locations of water withdrawals used or to be used to supply water to the project.

Exploratory wells are subject to state regulation. Fracturing of shale formations cannot be conducted on exploratory wells and they cannot be used as or converted to production wells until the project sponsor has obtained DRBC approval.

"To determine whether the Rules of Practice and Procedure require DRBC review of any projects falling outside this determination, we continue to recommend that any company proposing natural gas extraction activities anywhere in the basin contact DRBC staff to schedule a pre-application meeting," Collier said.

The DRBC recognizes that each natural gas extraction project also will be subject to the review of the environmental agency of the state in which the project is located and, in some cases, subject to federal agency review. The commission intends to coordinate with and, where feasible, to utilize the review process and approvals of the applicable state or federal agency to minimize duplication of effort and redundant requirements imposed on project sponsors.

DRBC Executive Director Determination Extended to Include Natural Gas Exploratory Wells

DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier announced on June 14, 2010 that she supplemented her May 19, 2009 determination to include natural gas exploratory wells.

"My 2009 determination that sponsors of natural gas extraction projects in shale formations must obtain commission approval before commencing such projects expressly did not cover wells intended solely for exploratory purposes," Collier said. "Today, I am extending the provisions of my 2009 determination to include exploratory wells, subject to reservations for exploratory well projects already approved by the states on or before June 14, 2010."

By this supplemental determination, all natural gas well project sponsors, including the sponsors of natural gas well projects intended solely for exploratory purposes, must first apply for and obtain commission approval before commencing any natural gas well project for the production from or exploration of shale formations within the drainage area of Special Protection Waters in the Delaware River Basin.

"For the purpose of this determination, any natural gas well drilled in or through shale is assumed to be targeting a shale formation and is subject to this determination, unless the project sponsor proves otherwise," Collier added.  All other aspects of the 2009 determination remain in effect.

Today's action recognizes the risks to water resources, including ground and surface water that the land disturbance and drilling activities inherent in any shale gas well pose.  "In light of the commission's May 5, 2010 decision to finalize natural gas regulations before considering project approvals, this supplemental determination removes any regulatory incentive for project sponsors to classify their wells as exploratory wells and install them without  DRBC review before the commission's natural gas regulations are in place," Collier said. "It thus supports the commission's goal that exploratory wells do not serve as a source of degradation of the commission's Special Protection Waters."

"Where entities have invested in exploratory well projects in reliance on my May 2009 determination and information from DRBC staff, there are countervailing considerations that favor allowing these projects to move ahead," Collier stated in her supplemental determination.  "I am informed that since May of 2009, Pennsylvania has issued a limited number of natural gas well drilling permits within the Delaware River Basin targeting shale formations, while New York State has not issued any natural gas well permits targeting shales in the basin since that date.  In contrast to the thousands of wells projected to be installed in the basin over the next several years, the risk to basin waters posed by only the wells approved by Pennsylvania since May 2009 are comparatively small.  Not only are these wells subject to state regulation as to their construction and operation, but they continue to require commission approval before they can be fractured or otherwise modified for natural gas production.  In light of these existing safeguards and the investment-backed expectations of the sponsors of these projects, this supplemental determination does not prohibit any exploratory natural gas well project from proceeding if the applicant has obtained a state natural gas well permit for the project on or before June 14, 2010."

On July 23, 2010, Executive Director Collier announced that she amended her June 14, 2010 supplemental determination to allow two additional natural gas exploratory wells in Wayne County, Pa. to proceed. Both Hess Corporation vertical exploratory wells, known as Davidson 1V and Hammond 1V, are proposed to be located in the north-northwest portion of the county. Collier already publicly announced her intention to take this action at the July 14 commission meeting. The Davidson 1V and Hammond 1V wells received Pennsylvania Erosion and Sediment Control General Permits (ESCGP-1) prior to June 14, but the company's well drilling applications already filed with the state's Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) were still under active review by PADEP and awaiting a permitting decision on that date. The July 23, 2010 amended supplemental determination covers only the Davidson 1V and Hammond 1V exploratory wells, both of which remain subject to all applicable PADEP regulatory requirements, including state well drilling permits. The state-approved Erosion and Sediment Control General Permits provide specific information regarding siting of these exploratory wells and set forth in detail the erosion and sediment control measures to be implemented during and after their construction to protect water resources. All other aspects of the May 2009 and June 2010 determinations remain in full effect. Exploratory wells may not be fractured or otherwise modified for natural gas production without prior DRBC approval. Commission consideration of natural gas development projects will occur after new DRBC regulations are adopted.  Draft natural gas regulations are now expected to be published in November or December 2010, and will be accompanied by a public rulemaking process. This process will entail two public hearings and a written comment period.

DRBC Grants Written Requests to Schedule an Administrative Adjudicatory Hearing

The commissioners at the July 14, 2010 meeting granted written requests submitted by several persons, a municipality, landowners' organizations, and environmental groups to schedule an administrative adjudicatory hearing on whether to modify the executive director's June 14, 2010 decision to require natural gas companies to obtain commission approval before installing natural gas exploratory wells, except for those exploratory wells that had received state drilling permits as of June 14, 2010. Some of the interested parties would like all exploratory wells to be excluded from commission review while other interested parties would like all exploratory wells to be reviewed. The requests were consolidated and the future hearing will be held as soon as possible in northeast Pennsylvania. The Honorable Edward N. Cahn, a former U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has been appointed as the hearing officer.

View Adopted Resolution for the Minutes of July 14, 2010 Concerning Requests for Hearing on Natural Gas Exploratory Wells (11 KB*)

The commissioners at the September 15, 2010 meeting granted the written request submitted by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability for an administrative hearing on the July 23, 2010 amendment to the supplemental executive director determination that allowed two exploratory wells sponsored by the Hess Corporation to proceed without commission review; this request will be consolidated with Judge Cahn's ongoing proceeding.

Updated on Nov. 3, 2010. Expert reports and witness affadavits will serve as direct testimony at the hearing. Counsel for several parties requested additional time to prepare expert reports. Judge Cahn determined that an extension of one month is appropriate to ensure the fairness of the hearing process and issued a revised scheduling order on November 2 announcing that the hearing is now scheduled to begin January 19, 2011 and will continue through January 26, 2011 (the hearing had previously been scheduled for the week of December 13, 2010).

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DRBC Amended Supplemental Executive Director Determination - July 23, 2010 (72 KB*)

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DRBC Supplemental Executive Director Determination - June 14, 2010 (54 KB*)

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DRBC Executive Director Determination - May 19, 2009 (67 KB*)

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DRBC Executive Director Approves Hess Corp. Request To Allow Two Additional Natural Gas Exploratory Wells (July 23, 2010)

" " DRBC Approves Stone Energy Water Withdrawal (July 15, 2010)

" "Stone Energy Approved Water Withdrawal Docket and Related Information

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DRBC Executive Director Determination Extended to Include Natural Gas Exploratory Well (June 14, 2010)

" " DRBC Statement on the Upper Delaware River Being Named by American Rivers to its "America's Most Endangered Rivers" List * (June 2, 2010)
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DRBC Will Review Natural Gas Well Pad Projects After Adoption of New Regulations (May 6, 2010)

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Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC Withdraws Cutrone Surface Water Application (October 20, 2009)

" " DRBC Eliminates Review Thresholds for Gas Extraction Projects in Delaware Basin's Special Protection Waters (May 19, 2009)
" " DRBC Notifies Company That Water Used For Developing Natural Gas Wells In Delaware River Basin Needs Approval (June 9, 2008)
" " Map Showing DRBC Special Protection Waters (SPW), SPW Drainage Area, and Marcellus Shale Formation (508 KB*)
" " Map: Extent of Marcellus Shale Formation in the Delaware River Basin (319 KB*)
" " Presentation on High-TDS Wastewater Management in Pa.* (Given by PADEP's Dana Aunkst at May 5, 2010 DRBC Meeting)
" " Presentation Given By DRBC Staff at the February 24, 2010 Stone Energy Public Hearing (2 MB*)
" " Presentation Given By DRBC Staff at January 19, 2010 Public Meeting Hosted By Pa. State Rep. Greg Vitali (206 KB*)
" " DRBC Regulations Page
" " DRBC Most Recent Notice of Applications Received (NAR)
" " DRBC Project Application Status Page
" " DRBC Project Review Applications Page
" " Next DRBC Meeting
" " New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
" " Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
" " U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The commission does not get involved in the private negotiations taking place between natural gas drilling companies and private property owners.  However, property owners are advised to seek appropriate technical and legal representation to ensure that they obtain adequate protection of their property.

Mail box.
Bill Muszynski or Chad Pindar

Last Updated: November 3, 2010


Tougher rules proposed for natural gas drilling near Delaware River

December 9, 2010

By Susan Phillips
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The multi-state agency that protects the water flowing in the Delaware River has proposed regulations for the natural gas drilling industry.

The Delaware River Basin Commission posted its long-awaited, and possibly controversial, proposals on its website Thursday morning.


The proposed rules would govern drilling in areas of New York and Pennsylvania where waterways feed into the Delaware River. The river provides drinking water for about 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia.

The regulations are tougher than Pennsylvania's rules in several ways. Drillers would have to post a $125,000 bond for each new well, instead of the current $2,500 bond.

Regulators would consider the cumulative effect of drilling in an area when approving permits, instead of analyzing each well independently.

Carol Collier is the executive director of the the Delaware River Basin Commission. Collier says its not just spills and accidents that can impact water quality. The total number of drill sites matters.

"The water quality will change but it will be really slow and incremental until all of a sudden you see a change in fish species or a change in the aquatic community and it will be really difficult to move backward," said Collier.

But some say the Commission is rushing the process. New York Governor David Paterson urged the regulators to hold off until his state conducts more studies on the process called hydraulic fracturing -- which uses water, sand and chemicals to release underground natural gas.

Environmentalists say the drilling process has already contaminated drinking water supplies across the country. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

Iris Bloom is with Protecting Our Waters, which opposes drilling for natural gas in the basin.

"We should wait until the EPA has finished its study which will be two years from now to evaluate the risks of hydraulic fracturing for water and for air and therefore for public health," said Bloom.

The commission will hold a series of public meetings on the proposed rules. Until the rules are adopted, a drilling moratorium stays in place for the Delaware River basin. Drilling in the rest of Pennsylvania continues.

A statement released by The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, expressed concern that the commission's rules would conflict with Pennsylvania's current regulations.

For a look at all of the active Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania see interactive map below.

Click on a point to view information about individual wells. [Source: PA DEP]

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