Energy In Depth has been covering the Delaware River Basin (DRB) saga for seven years, starting with the de facto fracking moratorium caused by the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) refusal to vote on regulations on oil and gas development in the basin, as well as the DRBC’s recently announced plans to finally release rules that would institute an outright fracking ban. Landowners have called the potential ban both immoral and illegal, and this week attended a Republican state lawmakers’ hearing alongside local and state elected officials to explain why the ban would be an unjustified taking of private property rights.
WNEP reported that the DRBC was invited, but chose not to attend, instead issuing a statement that explained,
“The commission’s focus is water resource management, and not economic impact; as such, we did not feel that our attendance at this hearing was appropriate.”
So hearing from residents, elected officials and others who will be directly impacted by the DRBC’s decisions is “inappropriate,” but the Commission’s de facto moratorium – a clear overreach of its authority — is somehow not considered to also be inappropriate? Furthermore, much of the hearing actually did focus on fracking’s impacts to “water resource management,” particularly in areas where natural gas development has already occurred, and the DRBC’s role in regulating such activities.
In fact, as Law 360 reported, landowners cited studies in the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin, where some of the most extensive Marcellus activity has occurred, that have shown no “discernible impacts” from natural gas development. From Law 360,
“Ned Lang, who recently founded the group Upper Delaware River Basin Citizens in support of landowner rights in the region, told the committee that water quality in areas where drilling has taken place over the last decade had been unaffected as a result.
“’Water quality in Susquehanna River has actually improved while gas drilling has been allowed to move forward,’ he said.”
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), an agency similar to the DRBC that oversees water withdrawals within the basin, has conducted ongoing water testing since 2010, when Marcellus development was really picking up in the region. Its most recent annual report released in October found ,“To date, the Commission’s network of monitors has not detected discernible impacts on the Basin’s water resources.”
Pa. Rep. John Fritz also discussed this at a Chamber of the Northern Poconos breakfast ahead of the hearing. As the News Eagle reported,
“A prohibition on gas exploration, drilling and extraction within this region is in contrast to the adjacent Susquehanna River Basin. According to Fritz, the DRBC’s proposal as both an affront on property owner rights, and hypocritical. He reminded the breakfast crowd that gas drilling has been active in the Susquehanna basin for ‘about 10 years’ without any ‘discernible affect’ on water quality. Gas drilling has been an economic generator in that region, which he pointed out, is being denied to landowners in the Delaware basin (including northern Wayne County, where there were many properties leased to prospective gas companies).” (emphasis added)
Many residents believe that the DRBC is ignoring this scientific evidence, and acting outside its authority in regulating oil and gas development. From Law 360,
“’The commission is not on sound footing,’ said Pennsylvania State Grange Legislative Director Vince Phillips, whose organization represents farmers throughout the commonwealth. ‘What I see is an arbitrary exercise by an unelected body.’”
“Phillips, however, said he sees no authority in the agency’s charter that allows it to impose the sort of sweeping ban it has proposed, and that such a move is better left to state environmental regulators or state legislators.
“He said the ban would ‘usurp the legitimate authority of state regulatory agencies as well as the authority of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
“’To me, that doesn’t wash,’ he said.”
As Rep. Fritz explained to WBRE/WYOU on Tuesday,
“There is no scientific nor logical justification for installing a permanent ban on drilling in the Delaware River basin. It just does not exist.”
And of course, economic impacts were also discussed. How could such impacts not be a part of the overall discussion when, as Debbie Gillette, Director for the Chamber of the Northern Poconos, testified, the actions of the DRBC have already and will continue “to prevent Wayne and Pike counties from experiencing economic growth and prosperity.” As Commissioner Smith, who is also a farmer in Wayne County, explained, “Our farms cannot simply survive today on the price we get for milk. Our farm is suffering.”
While the DRBC may not believe it is “appropriate” to hear such testimonies, many feel it is the Commission’s actions that have prevented farms in these two counties from experiencing the economic gains farms in neighboring shale counties have experienced. And those economic impacts felt on both sides of the river basin lines are very real, as Jim Barbour, a member of the Susquehanna County Farm Bureau, explained to Law 360,
“There are many farms that would be out of business if it wasn’t for the additional revenue from the gas industry.”
Wayne County resident Bill Shaughnessy explained in a recent EID guest post how many Wayne and Pike county farms have gone out-of-business in the seven years the de facto moratorium has been in place,
“Sadly, many of those proud farms are now rusted skeletons of a time gone by. Many of those loggers have taken other jobs to support their families. Many of my friends who once worked the family farm have been forced out of the area they love to find a living elsewhere. Construction, real estate, retail, employment, jobs, etc. — they all lag far behind neighboring Susquehanna County and beyond.
“Many of the above mentioned could have been saved by being allowed to harvest their own minerals on their own private property with the leases that were signed seven years ago. Unfortunately, the DRBC and extreme activist organizations such as the Delaware Riverkeeper —led by Maya van Rossum, the William Penn Foundation, Hollywood elites, and others — all decided that it was their duty to deprive citizens of our constitutional rights.”
The DRBC will be releasing its proposed new regulations by the end of November, with a vote to enact them expected in early 2018, essentially banning fracking in the basin. A recent commenter on one of our posts on this issue asked, “At what point is EID going to get that ‘reality’ and science aren’t what matters when it comes to this subject?” We get it – we really do. DRBC’s decision to likely enact a fracking ban after forcing an unnecessary moratorium for the last seven years — and to blatantly disregard the concerns of landowners in the basin by not even showing up to hear what those concerns might be — make that even more abundantly clear.
Still, the same states that are preventing development in the DRBC have seen and allowed it to flourish in the SRBC with no impacts to the water quality or quantity. Science really is on the side of the landowners in Wayne and Pike counties, and as long as that is the case, one has to hope that logic and reason will eventually win out along the Delaware River.