The natural gas regulations proposed by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) have impacts and implications that go far beyond putting a short leash on drilling companies. A group of more than a dozen landowner groups, businesses and business associations from the Upper Basin region have joined forces to mount an initiative to call this to the public’s attention.
In the coalition are Cherry Ridge Realty, the Lackawaxen-Honesdale Shippers Association, the Lower Wayne Property Owners Association, the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, Reilly Associates Engineers, the Rural Bethel Landowners’ Coalition, Schaefer Enterprises of Deposit, The Starlight Forum (landowners group), the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, the Wayne Economic Development Corporation, the Wayne Pike County Farm Bureau and Woodland Design Associates.
The way these rules are written would amount to a de facto ban on gas exploration and production in our region. The regulations stipulate, for example, that drilling pads must be separated by at least 500 feet from any body of water or wetland, no matter how tiny or seasonal it may be. Based on studies of several Upper Basin properties done by a professional engineer, this would rule out gas activity on roughly 99% of the open land lying in the river basin in Wayne and Sullivan counties. Moreover, the few areas that would qualify for use under these rules are typically too small for the purpose and couldn’t be reached with access roads.
The rules also assign vast decision-making powers to the DRBC’s executive director and the commission staff. In effect, this gives them unbridled authority to stop gas activities at any time for almost any reason. There are also no time limits for the commission to act on permit applications. Contrast that with Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act, for example, which specifies that permits must be issued within 45 days of receipt of properly completed applications. The state act also allows distance restrictions to be waived in certain circumstances if the drilling company is willing to take extra steps to reduce the risk of accidents.
It is also a matter of concern that the DRBC establishes legal precedents with its rules and determinations. If the regulations now under review are adopted without significant change, the commission could then use them as precedents to impose similarly crippling rules on agriculture and timber harvesting as well as commercial and even residential development. The governance of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in matters of land use and economic development would be superseded by a super-agency that has shown little or no concern for the economic well-being of the people living in the Upper Basin.
The DRBC has offered no real reason for intruding into the commonwealth’s domain. The proposed rules say the goal is to protect the waters of the Delaware and the forests in the environmentally sensitive headwaters region, but there’s no documentation included to show that the states’ oversight in these areas has been deficient. As measured by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) criteria, stream quality in Wayne County has been improving year after year. The percentage of land covered by forests has been increasing for decades and, in its 2010 revision of the state’s Chapter 102 Erosion and Sediment Control regulations, the DEP has greatly tightened rules that had done a good job already.
Residents of the Upper Delaware region are urged to make their feelings known to the DRBC and to the federal and state legislators who ultimately have a say in the conduct of the commission. Information on the DRBC’s hearings in Honesdale, PA, Liberty, NY and Trenton, NJ and guidance on how to submit written comments can be found at www.NaturalGasNow.info/DRBC  online. Written comments on the proposed regulations can be posted directly at the National Park Service website at parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=37829.
[Peter Wynne is media spokesman for the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, whose membership includes 1,300-plus land-owning families and organizations having title to upward of 100,000 acres.]