Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability Sue Delaware River Basin Commission over Exploratory Wells

Two anti-drilling “environmental” groups, The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), have joined forces in filing a federal lawsuit today against the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) in federal district court in Trenton, NJ.  The anti-drilling groups are challenging the actions the DRBC took to allow some exploratory natural gas wells to be drilled “without DRBC review and approval and despite a Basin-wide moratorium on gas wells.”

It almost seems fantastical. The DRBC is itself staunchly anti-drilling. MDN has previously commented that landowners in the Delaware watershed who want to lease their land, and the energy companies who want to drill there shouldn’t hold their breath (see here). In May 2009, Carol Collier, Executive Director of the DRBC, issued a “determination” requiring individual review by the Commission of each shale gas production well.  A year later the Commission decided to defer action on all gas production wells until regulations are adopted by the Commission to protect the Basin’s water resources.  But the Commission left open a loophole for exploratory wells created by the 2009 Executive Director Determination.

In June, 2010, Executive Director Collier issued a “supplemental determination” that closed the exploratory well loophole. However, in this exploratory well determination, Collier exempted wells that had obtained state drilling permits while the loophole was in effect. These wells are referred to as “grandfathered” wells. It is those grandfathered exploratory wells that have the DRN and DCS in a snit and therefore they’ve sued Carol Collier and the DRBC to stop even exploratory well drilling.

There is no word on just how many wells we are talking about—it may be a relative handful. The befuddling thing is this: Exploratory wells don’t get hydraulically fractured. Energy companies drill an exploratory well to get an idea of how the shale rock layers may perform in full production. Makes perfect sense to drill a hole and find out first if it will perform, before spending money trucking in millions of gallons of sand and water (and few thousand gallons of chemicals). Which points out that anti-drillers are just that: They do not want any drilling of any kind for any reason. They use hydraulic fracturing (a method that’s been around for decades) as the boogeyman argument, except in this case fracking is not being used, so they just repeat the mantra anyway that “it’ll pollute the water of 15 million people.”

*DRN and DCS Press Release (Feb 1): Groups File Federal Natural Gas Drilling Lawsuit against Delaware River Basin Commission (PDF file)

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