A leading congressional critic of shale drilling is scolding the Obama administration for failing to try to slow drilling in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) fired off a letter yesterday to the commander of the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, Brig. Gen. Peter "Duke" DeLuca. DeLuca represents the federal government on the little-known but powerful Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), and he rebuffed Hinchey's request that he use his vote to block gas drilling there until a lengthy study is completed.
DeLuca said in a previous letter the panel had to balance environmental and economic interests. Hinchey said the commission's job is to protect water quality, not spur economic development or "secure energy reserves," as DeLuca had stated (Greenwire, Sept. 22).
"Your letter raises very serious and troubling questions about the role of the Delaware River Basin Commission's federal representative," Hinchey wrote.
Hinchey's letter also demanded answers to a barrage of questions, such as "How have you complied with your agency's environmental review requirements?" and "Was your response to my letter approved by any superior officers ... or senior administration officials before it was sent?"
The Army Corps represents the federal government on the commission, which also includes representatives of the governors of four states, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The federal-state hybrid was created in 1961 to address regional water conflicts, and oversees water quality and quantity issues in the 13,539-square-mile basin.
Hinchey wants DRBC to block drilling in its areas of upstate New York and northeast Pennsylvania to wait until the commission completes a "cumulative impact statement," but DeLuca said that could delay drilling for years.
DeLuca said he is tasked with representing a "family" of federal agencies who must support the basin's economic needs and develop energy supplies "while protecting the environment."
Not so, says Hinchey. He said the compact that created DRBC's charter calls for it to protect water quality but does not charge it with supporting economic development.
"The compact provides no charge or direction to the DRBC to 'secure energy reserves,' other than hydroelectric power," Hinchey wrote.
He added that two other federal agencies, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, have written to the commission to express concerns about shale gas drilling in the basin.
Hinchey's assertion that DRBC is supposed to protect water, not boost business, tracks with the complaints of local and national environmental groups. Environmentalists are particularly concerned how high-pressure injections of chemical-laced water, called "hydraulic fracturing" might affect water quality.
But industry groups say fracturing is safe and Hinchey is too quick to dismiss economic concerns.
"The message Hinchey is delivering to the Army Corps here is pretty simple: 'I don't care about the devastating economic consequences of instituting a back-door ban on the Marcellus. And you shouldn't either,'" said Chris Tucker spokesman for Energy In Depth, a group formed by independent gas drillers to fight federal regulation.
Hinchey, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is seeking $1 million for DRBC to study the cumulative effects of drilling in the basin, which provides drinking water to 5 percent of the country's population (Greenwire, Sept. 13).
Cash for the study has been set aside in the House Interior Appropriations bill, but it has not cleared the Senate.