NEWTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- A commission that oversees drinking water quality for 15 million people took an initial step Wednesday to permanently ban drilling and hydraulic fracturing near the Delaware River and its tributaries, drawing criticism from the natural gas industry as well as from environmental groups worried that regulators would still allow the disposal of toxic drilling wastewater inside the area.
The Delaware River Basin Commission voted 3-1, with one abstention, to begin the lengthy process of enacting a formal ban on drilling and fracking, the technique that's spurred a U.S. production boom in shale gas and oil. Besides other locales, the watershed supplies Philadelphia and half of New York City with drinking water.
The resolution approved by the commission says that fracking "presents risks, vulnerabilities and impacts to surface and ground water resources across the country," and directs the staff to draft regulations to ban it.
Representatives of the governors of New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, all Democrats, voted for the measure. A representative of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie abstained and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer, representing the administration of GOP President Donald Trump, voted "no," drawing lusty boos from a strongly anti-fracking crowd attending the meeting outside Philadelphia.
"Today, we are acting to protect a watershed that supplies drinking water to more than 15 million people in one of the most densely populated areas of the country," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.
Govs. John Carney of Delaware and Andrew Cuomo of New York issued similar statements of support. New York banned horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing statewide in 2015.
Environmentalists were infuriated by provisions they said would allow the industry to draw water from the river and its tributaries for hydraulic fracturing outside the region, and to dispose of fracking wastewater within the Delaware watershed.
"The frackers get our clean water and we get a Superfund site back. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing. This is not a deal that we should be making," Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told commissioners.
Steven Tambini, the commission's executive director, urged critics to withhold judgment until they see the regulations. Draft regulations will be published no later than Nov. 30, with hearings and a public comment period to follow. Tambini anticipated that a final vote could take place next year.
"You don't know what the rules are going to say yet, so take it easy," he said.