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Boom Times on Hold

The leaseholders, the gas drillers, and the regulators.

Apr 18, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 30 • By ABBY WISSE SCHACHTER
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Five to seven test wells have been dug in Wayne County. Beyond that, not much is happening. The delay is due to a federal-interstate compact called the Delaware River Basin Commission, which has taken it upon itself to stop any drilling unless first approved by the DRBC, thus jeopardizing the second half of the payments landowners are expecting from their lease. According to the commission’s website, “DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier on May 19, 2009, announced a determination notifying natural gas extraction project sponsors that they may not commence any natural gas extraction project located in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters without first applying for and obtaining commission approval.”

The fact that Pennsylvania has developed safety standards and regulations for safe drilling means absolutely nothing. (New York is working on its own regulations, which should be finalized this summer.) And the fact that the DRBC is unaccountable to those who live within its wide purview means even less. Indeed, Collier had the gall to declare that her commission was instituting the moratorium for the residents’ own good. “The bottom line for the DRBC is to ensure that proper environmental controls are provided to safeguard our basin’s water resources that are used by 15 million people,” Collier stated.

Count some residents of Wayne County as ungrateful for Collier’s protection. Delaying the drilling is “extremely painful,” says NWPOA executive director Marian Schweig-hofer. “I want my kids to live here,” and the economic opportunities just haven’t been available for a long time. According to Schweighofer, there used to be 600 dairy farms in the area; now there are 82. Local farmers, moreover, have no pensions to fall back on, and manufacturing and other jobs left long ago. 

Schweighofer also resents the suggestion that landowners who want the drilling are trying to hurt the environment. “We are the ones who have cared for the land,” Schweighofer declares. “We are the true environmentalists and none of us are for the drilling without regulation.” But, she explains, the state already has regulations in place specifying layers of casing around wells and what sort of recycling and wastewater disposal must accompany the drilling.

DRBC has published its own proposed regulations and opened up a comment period to get responses. Hearings were held in Honesdale, Pa., and Liberty, N.Y., in February at which pro-drilling witnesses heavily outnumbered those in opposition. According to one report, “of the first 45 or so people to speak, only 5 opposed drilling.” But that didn’t stop the DRBC from claiming that further comment was needed and extending the comment period by another month to April 15. The residents of Wayne County are waiting to see whether Collier and company will come up with rules to impede drilling or rather allow it to proceed with proper safety controls.

Abby Wisse Schachter writes the New York Post’s politics blog Capitol Punishment (nypost.com/blogs/capitol).

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