What’s It Gonna Be, DRBC?

Deciding The Fate Of “The Little Giant”

Outgoing Delaware River Basin Commission Director, Carol Collier, has done an impressive job withstanding extreme political pressure. I’ve been highly critical of the DRBC, yet I do believe Collier deserves our gratitude – as long as she doesn’t do anything rash.

The small interstate agency has received sharp letters of admonition from an impatient, gas-happy governor, experienced even sharper budget cuts, and suffered an uneasy tension with an increasingly feckless PA DEP.  By July, 2013, the working relationship between the two agencies had deteriorated so badly that former DEP secretary, and current gubernatorial candidate, John Hanger informed readers of The Times-Tribune that “DRBC Should Have ‘No Confidence’ In Corbett’s Drilling Oversight.

It’s true, DRBC has approved too many pipelines.  In March 2013, Maya van Rossum, The Delaware Riverkeeper pressed the Commission on the need for greater oversight of planned projects. Deforestation and watershed fragmentation are growing concerns, as are leaks, ruptures and explosions.

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But generally speaking, under Collier’s leadership, DRBC has stood firm in the face the mighty gas extraction lobby, and it has managed to keep them at bay, and protect our vital, shared fresh water resources all this while. For this, we owe Collier our thanks. She must be exhausted.

Carol Collier, DRBC  Credit:  www.nj.gov

At this point, it seems unlikely that Collier, who departs in March, 2014, will rally a vote on gas drilling regulations in the Delaware River basin, but one never knows. All you can do is check the DRBC website from time to time.

Taking the long view, however, has been a hallmark of Collier’s tenure. Meetings are long and tedious, populated by scientists and engineers, and packed with data. Collier has led the agency along this plodding, empirical course for the past 15 years, so there’s little reason to suspect she’s planning to suddenly go out with a bang.  

Corbett’s abysmal polling, and the recent gas glut, have ended the atmosphere of angry urgency. StateImpactPA recently reported that many politicians are questioning whether this is the opportune moment to adopt new gas drilling regs in an extremely productive and lucrative basin.

One also has to believe President Obama is in no rush to have a fracked gas showdown over the historic Delaware, which is exactly what would ensue.

Clean water advocates are hopeful for a longer delay, yet it’s important to remember that the issue remains urgent for the handful of leaseholders who have been prevented from drilling in the basin by the tenuous moratorium. They are the innocent victims in all this, nevertheless, their mineral rights don’t trump the human environmental rights of 5% of the US population.

If DRBC is unwilling to approve new drilling regulations, perhaps it’s because the science continues to give them pause. These are, after all, exceptional value waters.

Supporting Evidence

If you’re wondering who’s paying for what little objective, non-industry funded research we have thus far, rest assured it’s not the state of Pennsylvania, nor is it the gas drillers. Research into the impacts of shale gas extraction in Pennsylvania are largely funded by independent, philanthropic foundations, like the Heinz Endowments in southwestern PA and William Penn Foundation in the northern tier and the east. Heinz has seen its share of upheaval lately, and Theresa Heinz Kerry has endeavored to set the record straight.

Meanwhile, William Penn Foundation has been proactive, if not slightly progressive, on gas drilling issues.

As reported by notorious pro-gas propagandist, Tom Shepstone, William Penn Foundation has donated significant cash to alleviate DRBC’s funding shortfalls, and it has contributed various levels of funding to organizations such as American Rivers, Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, PennEnvironment, DelawareRiverkeeper and Natural Resources Defense Council.

If the Delaware River has a friend in Carol Collier, then it has surely found a kindred spirit in William Penn Foundation who, in September, 2013, partnered with PennFuture and New Jersey Audubon to create a “Shared Vision for The Watershed”:

In a major development for the Delaware River Watershed, Laura Sparks, Chief Philanthropy Officer of the William Penn Foundation, noted today that the Foundation is directing significant funding toward impacting the entire watershed and is interested in creating a shared “Vision for the Watershed.” The Foundation plans to impact the Delaware basin by addressing watershed-wide issues; protecting and restoring places of ecological significance; and building the constituency for the watershed by engaging people.

I’m well aware that in certain circles of the Pennsylvania anti-fracking movement, Penn Future is considered a “big green.” It may well be, but when it comes to more independent research, I’m grateful and I’m all for it.

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