Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Frustrated Landowners Threaten to Sue DRBC Over Inaction on Gas Drilling

Peter Wynne and Curt Coccadrilli are members of the Northern Wayne Property Alliance, which has threatened to sue the DRBC if it doesn't schedule a vote on the proposed natural gas regulations.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Peter Wynne and Curt Coccadrilli are members of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, which has threatened to sue the DRBC if it doesn't schedule a vote on the proposed natural gas regulations.

As the Delaware River Basin Commission meets today in Wilmington, one thing not on their agenda is any decision on natural gas drilling. But a group of natural gas leaseholders from Wayne County have threatened to sue the Delaware River Basin Commission if the agency doesn’t act in some way on its own proposed drilling regulations at Wednesday’s meeting. The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance is an organization of landowners from Wayne County who together negotiated lease terms with two energy companies to drill for natural gas. But a de facto moratorium imposed by the DRBC on gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin has prevented gas development on their land. The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance has been on one end of a tug-of-war over gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin that has environmental groups pushing for more stringent gas regulation, and the DRBC’s own member states disagreeing over how to move forward. The Alliance wants the Commission to either schedule a vote on proposed regulations, or step aside and allow state regulations to be enforced.

The DRBC holds a unique position within the debate over fracking. It’s origins date back to a compact signed by four states and the federal government in 1961 to manage water quality, water withdrawals, droughts, floods, conservation and permitting for the river and its tributaries. The Commission is composed of the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and the federal government is represented by the Army Corps of Engineers.

More than two years ago, in December 2010, the DRBC released it’s proposed gas drilling regulations for the Basin. Public hearings and comments broke all records and illustrated the intense division over the issue. The DRBC published its revised draft regulations in November 2011 with a meeting scheduled that month to vote on the proposal. But the meeting was quickly cancelled after it became clear that the members of the Commission did not agree. Since then, the Commission has been silent on the issue.

The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance argues the Commission’s inaction on its own proposals have threatened the property owners’ ability to develop their mineral rights, which could result in termination of their lease agreements. In a letter to the DRBC’s executive director Carol Collier last week, the NWPOA executive director Bob Rutledge says the leaseholders spent time and money negotiating a good lease agreement that incorporates environmental provisions.

“Aided by highly qualified attorneys who specialized in environmental and Pennsylvania law who knew the oil and gas industry,” wrote Rutledge, “the Alliance spent two and a half years, an immense amount of volunteer time, and nearly three quarters of a million dollars to procure a precedent-setting lease that is among the most community and environmentally friendly leases in existence. These leases were then executed with two of the most reliable exploration companies in the country.”

Rutledge writes that some of the landowners, who are impoverished, may be forced to sell some of their land to developers.

“It is hard to predict what community and environmental problems new residential and commercial development could bring,” wrote Rutledge.

Rutledge also writes that the DRBC is being “held hostage by an emotion-driven anti-drilling community made up mostly of people outside our region and by activist staffers within the DRBC who are exercising their personal biases.”

A spokesman for the DRBC says the agency understands the leaseholders’ frustration, but says the stakes are high, and the issues complex.

“The Commissioners are looking carefully at all the science the best management practices,” says DRBC spokesman Clarke Rupert.  ”And how to strike the appropriate balance between natural gas development and protecting the environment and public health.”

Rupert says the Commissioners decide how to move forward, not the staff.

The letter from the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance did not specify the legal theory on which they would sue. But in the meantime, the Delaware Riverkeeper, an environmental group opposed to drilling in the Delaware River Basin, sent a memo to the DRBC in response to the Alliance letter. In it, the Riverkeeper says the NWPOA would have no legal basis for a lawsuit.

No one from the NWPOA gave public comment at Tuesday’s DRBC meeting in Wilmington and nothing related to natural gas drilling was on the agenda. But on Wednesday, the Commission meets to vote on a number of issues and the Commission Chair could choose to comment on the Alliance letter, perhaps signaling whether or not the DRBC is any closer to an agreement on gas drilling regulations.

Comments

  • Celia Janosik

    What is the difference between landowners who are made poor by the drilling companies and loose their homes, water and health and that of landowners who are not allowed to have drillers on their land. At least the latter have land to sell and they have their health.

  • cleanwateractforfracking

    So….their greed trumps clean water and soil for millions of people???

  • http://www.facebook.com/christina.countryman Christina Lee Countryman

    disappoint the greedy

  • Balicon

    I too am a Northern Wayne Property Owner, but more importantly I am a citizen. Those who leased have signed us all onto a test of a potentially very dangerous drug, Fracking. Thanks to the couragous DRBC we were lucky enough to get the placibo. To help visualize this huge experiment please look at Northern Wayne County via Google Earth or satellite view and notice the abundance of forrest land and small lakes and streams here in the Lake District. Now pan West to Montrose and yes, Dimock and notice the hundreds of well pads and new roads littering the countryside. Let’s just sit back and see how well this experiment works out for the unfortunate citizens of Susquehanna.

    • Brett Jennings

      If you look closely at the North west corner on Harris Road you will see a well pad less than a 1/2 mile from the NY line, also around the Borough of Starucca Borough in the SRBC area of Wayne County. There have been drilling there since 2010. I know that there were issues with the Harris well pad that Hess Drilled from Notices of Violations that were issued and that is in the DRBC area.

  • Ray Smith

    (Original letter sent and dated March 10, 2012)

    Governor, Tom Corbett:

    Dear Tom:

    I am writing to you today, to ask you to give some consideration into dropping the “SRBC” i.e. Susquehanna River Basin Association and putting DER
    Department Environmental Resources in their place, overseeing all the
    Commonwealth’s waterways. At a recent meeting SRBC held here in Williamsport, during the question and answer period of the meeting. I asked their spokesman if he knew that, in their own bylaws, it is stated that, the Commonwealth can take over their responsibilities entirely, of policing the entire Susquehanna River Basin
    and its tributaries? Which would put the Commonwealths (DEP) in charge, of enforcing the federal “Clean Water Act” as well as State regulations regulating our own waterways?

    The answer to my question from the SRBC spokesman was, yes he knew this! The following copy represents a section from their original by-laws! –See Section 3.10 of the Susquehanna River Basin Compact, P.L.9l-575; 84 Stat. 1509 et seq.
    Please review the following text on the first page of this document which gives Pa. the authority to do so.

    “REGULATING WATER WITHDRAWALS AND CONSUMPTIVE USES IN
    THE SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN.

    Who has the primary responsibility for managing? The water resources of the Susquehanna basin?” “The primary responsibility for managing the waters of The Susquehanna falls on the three, member states, i.e. New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland. SRBC works To fill in the regulatory gaps that exists in each state’s Management program SRBC assumes the necessary Responsibility, “until the State would have the regulatory Authority to implement a water management program Consistent with the Compact”

    In essence the SRBC originally appointed them-selves to regulate the Susquehanna River basin until such time that the Commonwealth, or other States in the compact, decided to implement their own Water Management Plan. At which time they would assume and take over the SRBC’s
    responsibilities! At this point in the meeting, I stated, it was my opinion that the citizens of Pa. simply, cannot afford to pay to implement all the regulations that SRBC casually, (some that are not in the federal regs.) that SRBC was placing on the Commonwealth of Pa. Furthermore, I stated there is not enough State money, in our treasury to pay for all the construction being ordered upon all the Sanitary Authorities, e.g. in all the communities up and down the Susquehanna watershed, in building those (in my view ineffective) unnecessary gigantic holding tanks, in efforts to hold the excess storm water run-off and sediments during heavy rains.

    SRBC, did make it clear in this meeting
    that, the Commonwealth of Pa. does have the right, to take over, in absence of
    them, in regulating their own waterways!

    My last suggestion to SRBC was, i.e.
    “Pennsylvania, should sell the water coming from the Susquehanna water shed,
    flowing into the Bay, (see the attached copy of Today’s related story from the Pittsburg Tribune-Review dated Sunday March 11th 2012). If the State would sell the water to the Delaware Bay, we could afford to implement all their regulations. e.g. In this case Pa., would not need to worry about how we going pay for all those improvements and up-dates required by SRBC to be made to our sewage treatment plants. Some of which are not practical, or cost effective, some in my opinion, nothing but pipe dreams! Why not sell our water to the Bay folks? Arizona sells massive amounts of their water from the Colorado river, to the State of California?

    SRBC’s response to me was, to this suggestion, “this would create one hell of a mess for us!” In my opinion that would be a fair trade!

    In closing my comments to SRBC by saying “one of the most beautiful examples of nature’s erosion that you will ever see, is the Arizona’s Grand Canyon, which was created entirely by the Colorado River’s continual massive erosion. Which goes on until this day? Therefore erosion, in some cases is not always so bad!” When our mighty rivers rise from floods and rain, it is not possible to stop, or control most erosion all together! After all the heavy rains so far this, year all the improvements
    made by local municipalities that SRBC has ordered Pa., to do, in efforts to reduce sediments flowing into the Bay. According to SRBC officials, there has not been any measurable reduction in sediment flow, downstream of the Susquehanna, this year, even though the Commonwealth and its people spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to control water run-off with regulations forced upon us by SRBC! How do you measure sediments amounts in muddy water?

    Tom, please don’t discard this idea without giving it some serious thought? Removing the SRBC’s of their present responsibilities of controlling Pa’s., waterways over to the (DEP) Department Environmental Protection, would place some additional work on them. Some of your people have the expertise already to fulfill those requirements. They can make decisions on their own, on what it is, that makes common sense, and whether it is cost effective as well as proven technology. Your actions, if you agree on the above idea, would take this unnecessary, regulatory agency, SRBC out of the mix. There are simply too many, so called regulatory redundant experts, running around on their drilling pads getting in the way. Let us together, lighten this load?

    Finally, one last important matter, avoiding pollution from oil and gas drilling rigs and transportation! The OIL & Gas Industry is more concerned about damage to
    the environment caused by them, then the average American, or any
    environmentalist! They are the ones that get the bad press. Most accidents in
    the Oil & Gas field are due to human error, their main objective is, to avoid
    and reduce those accidents through better training, and by hiring people who
    have prior expertise in the field they are working in. There will always be accidents,
    and they are mindful, that there is a tree hugger, hiding behind every tree,
    watching for a spill of frack water, or a drop of oil on the ground. The real truth is it is the radical environmentalist and the Obama administration, whom the press is most interested in. They are the blame that has kept America from becoming energy independent, along with the entire Obama administration! Contrary to what Obama says, it will not take 5 or 10 years, of drilling which would allow the U.S.,
    to become, energy independent!

    One added additional very important note: (added) 7-14-2013) by Ray

    Under no uncertain circumstances, can the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, ever allow some federal agency, designate the Susquehanna River to be “named” a Scenic River!!! If the State Of Pennsylvania would allow this to happen, there would be no more Gas or Oil drilled in the entire Commonwealth of Pa. Federal regulations, would stop any further exploration, or development!!!

    I look forward to
    hearing from you,

    Sincerely,

    Ray P. Smith

    My phone number is
    570-971-2250

    My Email address is, rpsmith662@verizon.net

    Attachment:

    See attachment Story
    from the Pittsburg
    Tribune-Review

    Attachment:

    Commission
    suggests charging for river water

    By Bob Frye

    TRIBUNE-REVIEW

    Sunday, March 11,
    2012

    You can lead a horse to water, but can you
    make him pay for it?

    That’s something the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission figuratively is asking. While delivering the commission’s annual report to the House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee at the state Capital in Harrisburg, John Arway suggested that lawmakers should start charging industry for the water it takes from the state’s rivers and streams. Right now, that’s not happening.

    The Susquehanna River Basin Commission charges industry about 27 cents per 1,000 gallons of water from that river, or just enough to replace what’s removed; the Delaware River Basin Commission charges about 8 cents per 1,000 gallons, Arway said. No one regulates who takes water out of the Ohio River drainage,
    nor does anyone pay to replace it.

    The commission itself makes a little money by selling water. It’s getting $5 per 1,000 gallons taken from Donegal Lake in Westmoreland County. The water is being purchased by a Marcellus Shale deep-well driller. But beyond that, the state is letting industry take its water for free. That’s the way things have been for a long time, Arway added.”Shallow-well gas drillers in the Allegheny National Forest have been pulling all of the water for their operations from our rivers for decades without paying a penny for it. Farmers do the same,”Arway said. “Anyone with a tanker truck can pull up to our water and take what they want without the commonwealth getting a thing for it.”

    That’s not the way things work elsewhere, he said. In the West — where water is a scarce commodity – industry routinely pays for water, he said. If Pennsylvania started doing the same, it could reap tens of millions of dollars in benefits, if not more .Lawmakers on the committee expressed some interested in the idea, though it’s clear a lot of specifics would have to be worked out.

    Rep. John Evans, the Crawford County
    Republican who serves as majority chairman of the committee, asked how money
    generated from selling water should be allocated. His first impression seemed
    to be that Arway was asking for the commission to get all of the money.”Shouldn’t the commonwealth receive the funds because the water belongs to it?” Evans asked.That is indeed the case, Arway said. He said he would expect that lawmakers would decide how to allocate that money, with some going to townships for repair of bridges over streams and rivers, some going to water treatment facilities — and some going to the Fish and Boat Commission, because anglers and boaters use the waterways from which the water is being taken. Exactly who should get money and in what proportion is something the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee could determine, he suggested. “It’s unlimited, how this could be constructed,” Arway said. Whether there’s any interest in the idea may become clear soon. Arway said he will be “going on the road” to talk about the idea
    with constituents — from sportsmen to lawmakers — in the near future.

    “It’s a message we want to get out and
    see how it resonates,” Arway said.

    Bob Frye can be reached at
    bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

    Images
    and text copyright © 2012 by Trib Total Media, In.

    Read more: Commission
    suggests charging for river water – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/outdoors/print_785791.html#ixzz1op2CrlvI

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