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Delaware Riverkeeper Network Files to Intervene in Lawsuit Challenging DRBC Drilling Moratorium

An environmental organization that has long opposed shale gas development in Pennsylvania has filed to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the Delaware River Basin Commission's (DRBC) ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the 13,539-square mile watershed.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network said it supports the DRBC's contention that it has authority to "impose and advance the moratorium." It filed a motion to intervene in the case this week in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Wayne Land and Mineral Group (WLMG) filed its lawsuit against the DRBC on May 17, arguing that the commission is impeding the development of private land and appeasing environmental groups opposed to oil and gas produced by unconventional drilling (see Shale DailyMay 20).

"The WLMG lawsuit seeks to advance drilling and fracking in our watershed to the detriment of tens of millions who rely upon a healthy Delaware River system, and it does so by seeking to fundamentally disempower the DRBC and its ability to protect our water resources from such dangerous industrial operations," said Delaware Riverkeeper Network leader Maya van Rossum.

In its lawsuit, WLMG said DRBC "lacks authority under the Delaware River Basin Compact to review and approve a natural gas well pad, a gas well and related facilities and associated activities on WLMG's property in the Delaware River Basin."

The U.S. Congress approved the compact in 1961. It's an agreement among the United States, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to better protect the Delaware River watershed. Pennsylvania is a member of seven other interstate river basin organizations.

The DRBC decided in 2009 that all gas drilling in the basin needed to be reviewed, saying it would not approve any development until it adopted new rules governing the industry (see Daily GPIJune 1, 2009). In 2010, it decided to postpone the review of natural gas development and has failed to act on adopting new rules, leaving in place a de facto moratorium.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, the commission had no comment other than to say it would defend against WLMG's claims. It filed a motion in June for an extension to reply to the complaint, which was granted by the court. The commission said it needed more time to consult with the governments included in the compact, adding that WLMG had no objection to the extension, which was granted until July 8.

A conference has been scheduled for Aug. 25 to discuss the case and its schedule.

WLMG owns about 180 acres of land in Wayne County, PA, where it is headquartered. Seventy-five of those acres are within the river basin. According to its lawsuit, the company acquired the property last year with the intent to explore for, extract and sell natural gas from shale formations underneath the property. It said it plans to build an access road and well pad there before drilling an exploratory well.

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