A coalition of landowners in Wayne County, PA, is threatening to file a lawsuit against the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) over a continuing delay in either enacting natural gas regulations in the basin or deferring regulation to its four member states (see related story).

Bob Rutledge, executive director of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance LLC (NWPOA), warned that if the DRBC doesn’t schedule a vote to consider revising its water quality regulations, or alternatively, fails to step aside in regulating shale development in the basin, the group will file a lawsuit against the agency. The DRBC’s next regularly scheduled public hearing is Tuesday, followed by a business meeting the next day.

“The commission’s failure to adopt natural gas regulations or step aside has not only harmed many people financially, it actually threatens the land itself,” Rutledge said in a June 27 letter to DRBC Executive Director Carol Collier. “Several of our members with extensive acreage say they could be forced to heavily timber their lands or subdivide them and open the subdivisions to development so they and their families can keep going financially.”

Rutledge added that it took NWPOA two and a half years and nearly $750,000 to secure a lease with Newfield Exploration Co. and its joint venture (JV) partner, Hess Corp. (see NGI, Nov. 22, 2010). That lease, he said, is now in jeopardy due to the ongoing moratorium on shale development in the basin. “Our lessors, if terminated, and our region could be targeted by wildcat companies with boilerplate leases and shoddy operations,” Rutledge said. “The unending delays have gone well beyond merely testing our patience.”

Newfield and Hess have drilled at least three exploratory wells in Wayne County, but the moratorium prevents the companies from drilling more. The NWPOA represents more than 1,500 families who combined own more than 100,000 acres, 99% of which is leased to Newfield and Hess.

DRBC spokeswoman Kate Schmidt told NGI that natural gas development is not on the agenda at either of the DRBC’s upcoming meetings but added that the current commission chairman, New Jersey appointee Michele Sierkerka, “may choose to make remarks on this subject, or any subject, during the business meeting, but that is at her discretion.” She said the NWPOA letter has been shared with commissioners.

“The commission understands NWPOA’s frustration over the length of time of the ongoing rulemaking process,” Schmidt said. “However, the scientific and policy questions that the commission must resolve in the course of preparing natural gas regulations are extremely complex, and the stakes for the larger region are high.”

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 agency 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 NGI, Nov. 21, 2011).

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