A key vote to lift a ban on drilling for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin has been postponed, prompting claims of victory from environmentalists concerned about water contamination.
The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which regulates water use across the 14,000-square-mile (36,260-square-km), gas-rich basin, suspended a vote scheduled for Monday amid speculation that its five members lacked the three votes needed to allow drilling.
"There are still some open issues that the commissioners have to work through," said DRBC spokesman Clarke Rupert, who had no new date for the vote.
Earlier this month, the DRBC proposed ending the drilling moratorium in the basin that stretches across parts of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware and sits atop the United States' biggest natural gas deposit: the Marcellus Shale.
Under proposed new regulations, the DRBC said it will provide water for no more than 300 natural gas wells over 18 months, at which point they will reassess the rules.
The delay has frustrated drillers and the governor of industry-friendly Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, who is keen to develop the state's slice of the basin.
"Today's delay -- driven more by politics than sound science -- is a decision to put off the creation of much-needed jobs, to put off securing our energy independence, and to infringe upon the property rights of thousands of Pennsylvanians," Corbett said in a statement.
Concerns have arisen over fracking, the drilling technique used in the Marcellus to extract gas from shale by pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into rock underground.
While fracking has led to huge increases in natural gas production in the United States, environmentalists say it contaminates water sources, sparking opposition to drilling in the Delaware Basin, which provides water for millions of homes across four states.
New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing the DRBC for not completing an environmental study on fracking before releasing its regulations.
Hearing on overturning NY fracking ban draws huge turnout
The final hearings on regulations that would end a ban on drilling for natural gas in New York state got under way on Tuesday in a packed auditorium at Sullivan County Community College.
Advocates of fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laced water and sand into shale rock to release gas, told a rowdy, polarized audience that drilling would create jobs and boost New York's ailing economy.In a last chance for communities to voice their views for and against a controversial drilling technique called fracking, about 300 people turned up, many of whom were left in the rain as the house spilled above capacity.
Those against blamed it for contaminating water wells and threatening the safety of local communities.
Outside, signs read "Don't frack with our water" and "Jail the frackers".
Others disagreed. "We fight wars and import oil to get resources that we have at home," said Edward Allees, 88, from Jeffersonville, New York. "What is so special about New York that we can't drill here?"
New York sits atop the Marcellus Shale formation, the largest U.S. deposit of natural gas, which also stretches across parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
Governor Andrew Cuomo hopes to put an end to the drilling moratorium by next year as the New York Department of Environmental Conservation finalizes new regulations for the state.
Cuomo aims to replicate the energy boom that Pennsylvania has seen in recent years thanks to drilling in the Marcellus.
But the move has spurred opposition from environmentalists who say fracking could taint fresh water for millions of residents, including those in New York City.
"We have long argued that new gas development using the risky fracking technology should not be permitted in New York unless and until it has been demonstrated that it can be done safely. We're simply not there yet," said Kate Sinding, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a blog.
Industry maintains that fracking, which could release enough natural gas for a century of U.S. needs, is safe.
"With more than 1 million wells safely hydraulically fractured in the United States, the nation's oil and natural gas industry has a stellar record of safety," said Brad Gill, executive director of the Oil and Gas Association of New York, which represents gas drillers in the state.