Last November, Delaware Gov. Jack A. Markell was putting on the brakes when it came to natural gas development in the Delaware River Basin. Last month, he was extolling the virtues of natural gas at an event to celebrate the conversion of a coal-fired power plant in Dover to natural gas. And didn’t the natural gas industry take note of the apparent irony! In a letter to the governor, Kathryn Z. Klaber, CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, wrote of the coalition’s “great interest” in the announcement about the plant, the NRG Energy Center Dover. In particular, a quote from the governor in a state press release: “The repowering of NRG Energy Center Dover represents another important milestone in Delaware’s efforts to have the cleanest, cheapest and most reliable energy in the nation. … NRG’s investment in cleaner natural gas technology provides significant air quality benefits for our citizens and improves the economic competitiveness of Kent County. NRG is to be recognized for reducing air emissions and contributing to Delaware’s goal of a clean energy economy.” Markell is one of four governors — plus a federal representative — who are members of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which regulates water use and oversees water quality in the basin. He apparently was the impetus for the DRBC cancelling a meeting to vote on proposed regulations last November. If adopted, the regulations would have led to an end of a drilling moratorium the commission set in 2010. But Markell said he couldn’t support the regs, and the meeting was off. In her recent letter, Klaber challenged Markell, saying, “Given these clear benefits — which your state is realizing firsthand, even while Delaware produces no natural gas — we once again encourage you, through your Delaware River Basin Commission position, to call on the Commission to move forward immediately with workable, common-sense regulations.” Delaware has no natural gas reserves. But with drilling elsewhere in the basin, “your state would be in a strong position to advance even more opportunities associated with clean-burning natural gas than ever before,” Klaber said. So this adds to the blitz of letters that folks sent to the Delaware River Basin Commission before its July meeting. Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett, a member of the commission that regulates water use and oversees water quality, urged the commission to adopt regulations that would govern natural gas drilling in the basin — and end a drilling moratorium that has been in place since 2010. A property owners’ group and the county commissioners of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wayne County chimed in with similar sentiments. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger urged caution and restraint. The commission did not act on the regulations in July. Not long afterward, two drilling companies announced that they were cancelling leases in northeastern Pennsylvania. Many had been negotiated before the commission’s moratorium was in place. Recently, companies that had negotiated leases in New York counties that are in the basin also announced their departure. In still more natural gas-related news, demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters earlier today to urge that official re-open an investigation into water quality in Dimock, a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania where natural gas drilling has been occurring. Their action was prompted by a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. Reporter Neela Banerjee wrote that while federal officials were declaring the water safe to drink, staffers in Philadelphia “warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production.” An EPA spokeswoman said the warning came from one staffer and was “a preliminary evaluation” based on a limited number of water samples. Drilling opponents, however, say they plan to deliver a petition with 50,000 signatures asking the EPA to re-open this and other water quality investigations.
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