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Pennsylvania Landowners' Group Blasts DRBC Over Delay

A coalition of landowners in Wayne County, PA says it has "run out of patience" with the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), and is urging the organization to either enact natural gas regulations or step aside and let the states do so.

"We've had hearings, votes and public uproar and, after two and a half years, the states have updated and strengthened their regulations, but we still have nothing from the DRBC," Marian Schweighofer, executive director for the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance LLC (NWPOA), wrote in a Dec. 3, 2011 letter to the organization. "To paraphrase Aesop, this mountain has labored noisily and hasn't even produced a mouse."

Members of the DRBC include the governors of the four basin states -- Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania -- and the federal government, represented by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic division.

The organization was scheduled to meet on Nov. 21, 2011 to revise its water quality regulations and possibly open the basin to Marcellus gas drilling, but the meeting was postponed indefinitely after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he opposed the proposal for the commission (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011). A makeup date for the meeting has still not been scheduled.

"It's time for the DRBC to acknowledge that it's incapable of leading efforts to regulate natural gas activities in the basin and that it should step aside and follow the lead of the states, intervening only as a peacemaker when there are conflicts between states or as a regulator only if the states have failed to set standards that would have prevented actual harm to the waters of the basin," Schweighofer said.

Peter Wynne, spokesman for NWPOA, told NGI's Shale Daily that the coalition represents more than 1,500 families who collectively own more than 100,000 acres, 99% of which is leased to Newfield Exploration Co. and its joint venture (JV) partner, Hess Corp. (see Shale Daily, Nov. 17, 2010).

"We've been waiting and not seeing for quite awhile, but there is really little else we can do except to continue urging the DRBC and the various legislators that represent our region to settle this issue once and for all," Wynne said Tuesday. "The big question for us is that it's not even clear that there exploitable quantities of gas in the Marcellus beneath the principal area of our membership, which is in northeastern Wayne County."

Newfield and Hess had drilled at least three exploratory wells in Wayne County, but Wynne said the DRBC's moratorium on gas drilling in the basin has thwarted any plans by the JV for more, and has left many unanswered questions among landowners.

"[It has been] suggested that there is a good chance that the shale in this area is overcooked and that there will not actually be any exploitable amount of gas here," Wynne said. "We're just sitting here waiting and wondering what's going to happen. We're wondering when we're going to find out that [Newfield and Hess] have the green light to go ahead and do the test wells and then tell us whether there is anything here or not."

Wynne said about 15,000 acres owned by NWPOA members are in the Susquehanna River Basin and therefore not subject to the DRBC's moratorium. He added that about 10% of Wayne County lies within the Susquehanna River Basin, with the remainder in the Delaware River Basin.

Last month the DRBC agreed, at the request of New York, to postpone any water withdrawal applications for natural gas development in the state until an environmental review of hydraulic fracturing is completed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (see Shale Daily, Dec. 12, 2011).

The final version of the DRBC's proposal was released on Nov. 1, 2011, nearly one year after it was first proposed (see Shale Daily, Nov. 9, 2011; Dec. 10, 2010). If adopted, the rulemaking would "constitute a joint exercise of the sovereign authority of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and the federal government" under the Delaware River Basin Compact and would amend the DRBC plan for the basin.

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