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Delaware River natural gas drilling vote postponed

By Edward McAllister

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A key vote scheduled for Monday to lift a natural gas drilling ban in the Delaware River Basin has been postponed as a commission overlooking water supply in the region remained undecided about opening it up to drillers.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which regulates water that could be used for drilling across the 14,000 square mile (36,260 sq km), gas-rich basin, suspended the vote on Friday amid speculation that its five members did not have 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 country's biggest natural gas deposit: the Marcellus Shale.

Under proposed new regulations, the DRBC said that it will provide water for no more than 300 natural gas wells over 18 months, at which point they will reassess the rules.

But concerns have arisen over fracking, the drilling technique that extracts gas from shale by pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into rock underground.

While fracking has led to record 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.

"This delay further demonstrates that the proposed regulations for fracking in the Delaware River Basin are not ready to see the light of day," Schneiderman said in a statement on Friday.

Environmentalists at the New Jersey Sierra Club said the delay was down to the commission not having enough votes to pass the regulations, calling it a "victory for clean drinking water."

The DRBC declined to comment on the voting.

The five commission members are the governors of the basin states and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government.

New York, which has its own drilling ban in place, has intimated that it will vote against opening the basin to drilling, as has Delaware, while Pennsylvania is all for it. It is unclear which way the Army Corps and New Jersey will vote.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents drillers in the region, railed against the fracking opposition on Friday.

"Blanket calls by some groups...to halt this safe development are misguided and will do nothing to create jobs or make America more energy secure," its president Kathryn Klaber said.

(Additional reporting by Joan Gralla in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

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