Drilling Moratorium Handcuffs Landowners, Stunts Economy

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) continues to stymie development of the Marcellus Shale in all or parts of 13 Pennsylvania counties even as Governor Corbett, Senator Pat Toomey and property owners plea for an end to the commission’s three-year moratorium on gas-well drilling.

Property owners had hoped the DRBC would act on the matter at its July meeting but no action was taken. Bob Rutledge, executive director of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance LLC, says the commission wants to develop the “perfect regulation.”

They are completely overstepping the basis of their charter of monitoring water quality and quantity, said Rutledge, whose Wayne County farm has been in his family since the 1840s.

Clark Rupert, a commission spokesman, said the DRBC takes its authority to regulate drilling from its 1963 compact—a broadly worded document that makes no mention of gas wells. The commission has not said when it would act on a proposal to regulate gas-well drilling.

The delay has prompted property owners to explore legal action against the commission, Rutledge said.

On June 27 property owners and Gov. Tom Corbett, an ex-officio DRBC member, sent letters claiming that the commission is infringing on property rights and denying the region of economic benefits.

Gov. Corbett’s letter says:

I am writing to convey a profound sense of frustration and disappointment on behalf of my constituents…

Adoption of this moratorium…was purportedly done to allow for the drafting of appropriate standards that would protect the water resources of the basin. However, deferring the submission of applications until regulations are adopted presumes that regulations will, ultimately, be adopted. That has failed to occur. In their letter, the property owners say that they will be left to conclude that litigation against the commission will be necessary to “regain our right to access our mineral estates” if the commission does not at least act in July to schedule a vote on its proposed drilling regulations.

The Alliance said it had “spent two and a half years…and nearly three quarters of a million dollars to procure a precedent-setting lease that is among the most community- and environmentally friendly leases in existence.” The lease is now in jeopardy the Alliance reported.

In our opinion, the Alliance said, the Commission is allowing itself to be held hostage by the media and an emotion-driven anti-drilling community made up mostly of people from outside our region and by activist staffers within DRBC who are exercising their personal biases.

In the meantime, two companies that sought to drill in the Delaware River basin are withdrawing from the region where they would have paid an estimated $187.5 million in leases to landowners. Although the companies named low gas prices as the reason for their change of plans, the inaction of the DRBC could only dampen the enthusiasm of developers.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we’re guessing it took less than three years to secure an okay to drill.