Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is urging the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to proceed with a proposal to revise water quality regulations, a move that could ultimately open the basin to expanded Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

In a letter dated June 27 to DRBC Executive Director Carol Collier, the Republican governor said Pennsylvanians — especially those in Pike and Wayne counties, in the northeast part of the state — feel “a profound sense of frustration and disappointment” over the continuing de facto moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the basin.

“Adoption of this moratorium, namely through the postponement of consideration of well pad dockets, was purportedly done to allow for the drafting of appropriate standards that would protect the water resources of the basin,” Corbett said. “However, deferring the submission of applications until regulations are adopted presumes that regulations will, ultimately, be adopted. That has failed to occur.

“This moratorium has done more than prohibit the citizens of Pennsylvania who reside within the basin from enjoying their property rights. It has depressed economic growth in the region, discouraged the investment of private capital in the Commonwealth, and reflected poorly on the DRBC’s ability to function effectively.”

Corbett said the moratorium has also driven away oil and gas companies that were interested in the region.

“Lease payments have been withheld, force majeure clauses in contracts have been exercised, and communities have watched their neighbors outside the basin benefit tremendously,” Corbett said. “In addition to this inequity, the DRBC’s inaction may very well constitute a ‘taking’ under the U.S. Constitution, subjecting its members, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to financial and other legal ramifications.”

Last year, Corbett energy adviser Patrick Henderson made a similar appeal to the DRBC for lifting the moratorium (see Shale Daily, June 21, 2012).

DRBC spokeswoman Kate Schmidt told NGI’s Shale Daily the agency’s staff is “confident that the commissioners are taking Gov. Corbett’s letter very seriously” but added that there was currently no time frame for lifting the moratorium.

“There have been ongoing deliberations amongst the commissioners regarding strong science and best management practices and on how to strike the appropriate balance between natural gas development and protection of natural resources and public health,” Schmidt said Tuesday. “Staff [is] providing technical support to the commissioners in these deliberations.

“[But] any decision moving forward regarding adopting regulations for natural gas development will come from the commissioners.”

The DRBC is led by 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’ (USACE) North Atlantic division.

The DRBC was near a vote to revise its water quality regulations in November 2011, but the meeting was canceled and the proposal postponed indefinitely after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he opposed it (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011).

Before the November 2011 meeting was canceled, New York officials said they would have joined Delaware in opposing the plan, but Pennsylvania was ready to vote in favor of it. New Jersey was undecided.