TRENTON, N.J. — Hundreds of environmental activists gathered in Trenton on Monday for a rally that became a celebration of a delay in natural gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed.
But the drilling opponents, including actors Debra Winger and Mark Ruffalo, cautioned that their battle isn't over yet after the Delaware River Basin Commission decided last week to delay a vote on rules for drilling, leaving a moratorium in place.
"We have more time for building more evidence and more allies," Maya Van Rossum, head of the advocacy group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told the crowd.
The commission, which monitors water quality in an area that includes parts of four states and provides drinking water for more than 15 million people, had been scheduled to vote Monday on rules on natural gas drilling in the region.
Opponents and supporters of drilling were preparing to descend on Trenton for the vote. Some opponents on Monday suggested they were prepared to engage in civil disobedience to disrupt the meeting.
The commission, which has board members representing the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the Obama Administration, abruptly postponed the vote last week after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he would vote against the rules, making the outcome uncertain.
The commission has not said when a new vote could be scheduled.
Energy companies are eager to drill in northeastern Pennsylvania's portions of the Marcellus Shale, a giant underground rock formation. Opponents say the method, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, endangers drinking water. Its supporters say the drilling would not harm water supplies.
The debate over the rules is emotional. Energy companies and many residents say the drilling would bring desperately needed jobs to a downtrodden area. Many of them say the proposed rules, which would initially limit the number of wells to 300 and require a $5 million bond for each one, are too onerous.
But environmentalists say any drilling is potentially disastrous.
They chanted on Monday, "No fracking way," and some had signs linking the cause to Occupy Wall Street. They walked to the State House in hopes of persuading New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to vote "no."
Most observers expected Christie to support the regulations, but at a news conference on Monday, he said he had not committed.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett was expected to vote in favor of the regulations. Markell and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were expected to vote against them. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which represents President Barack Obama on the commission, has not said how it will vote.
Christie said commission members need to work harder to come to an agreement.
"I haven't taken a position yet on those rules, and I'm glad I didn't because now it appears that a number of the states want to change the rules as they were proposed. It sounds like there's some confusion with Delaware and New York in terms of their positions on it," he said. "So, my view is, let's have everybody go back to work and be talking to each other and try to come up with a set of rules that, if possible, people can be supportive of."
The activists took credit Monday for flipping Markell's position, pushing back the scheduled vote and putting the fate of the rules in question. "You shut them down by swarming them with calls, swarming them with emails and the threat you'd show up here today," said Josh Fox, who made the anti-fracking documentary film, "Gasland."
Winger said protesters need to keep working.
"I get scared right after the victory," she said. -- (AP)