DRBC Says No Marcellus Vote Until Nov. 2012 Earliest

Eastern parts of Pennsylvania that sit within the boundaries of the Delaware River Basin have been locked in a drilling moratorium since the Marcellus drilling boom began. Eastern PA has the misfortune of sitting inside the boundaries of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which delayed a vote to allow drilling in November 2011. That vote has still not taken place.

Carol Collier, executive director of the DRBC, made an impromptu visit with Wayne County, PA landowners while in the area last week, and updated them on the “progress” being made on adoption of new drilling rules. She told landowner coalition representatives there are two reasons why new drilling rules for the Delaware River Basin will not be voted on before November 2012 at the earliest: (1) They’re waiting to see what New York does, and (2) they’re waiting for the Nov. 6 election.

It’s important to see what NY does because several counties in NY fall within DRBC boundaries (see the map below). If NY’s drilling rules are significantly different from what the DRBC adopts, it presents a problem as to which set of rules are used.

And it’s important to see what happens on Nov. 6 because one of the voting members of the DRBC, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (Democrat), is up for reelection. He’s been a reliable “no” vote when it comes to drilling in the Marcellus, even though his state has no Marcellus shale under it. If Markell gets tossed in this election and a Republican is voted in, the “no” vote will likely change to a “yes” and then the new rules will be adopted.

Some of the counties in PA—Pike, Monroe, Carbon and Schuylkill—sit along the eastern-most edge of the Marcellus where the shale formation ends, making them less likely to hold meaningful amounts of shale gas (see the map below). But one eastern PA county, Wayne, is squarely within the Marcellus zone, and property owners in Wayne County are growing tired of the wait and their attorney has been making noises to the DRBC. Hence the visit by Ms. Collier.

Carol R. Collier, the executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, said Thursday that she “would be surprised” if a vote on the regulations happens before November, a message she shared with leaders of a Wayne County landowners group during a private, informal meeting early last week.

The interstate commission that regulates water quality and quantity in the watershed appeared ready to adopt a basin-specific set of drilling rules in November 2011, but the vote was canceled after the commissioners – governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware and a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers – could not reach an agreement on the proposal.

Other than a handful of exploratory gas wells, drilling has been on hold in the 13,000-square-mile basin since May 2010 as the commission drafted and revised its drilling rules. In Pennsylvania, the de facto moratorium has left Wayne County an island of non-development as drilling proceeds in the rest of the state where the Marcellus Shale contains marketable quantities of gas.

Ms. Collier said Thursday she did not know in advance that the November 2011 meeting was going to be canceled and that discussions among the commissioners about the rules are ongoing.

“The commissioners are having their technical staffs meet and work together to work out some of the issues,” she said. “Things are progressing.”

But the politically charged issue is unlikely to be presented for a vote before the November elections.

The commissioners have also said that they would like to review New York’s natural gas drilling regulations when they are adopted, Ms. Collier said.

“There are a number of reasons to wait a bit.”

Ms. Collier said groups that oppose gas drilling in the basin regularly attend the commission’s meetings, but she has not seen members of the landowners group there.

“Having no communication is bad communication in my book,” she said. “I just wanted to stop in, have a casual conversation and let them know that I’d keep them posted, but didn’t have a whole lot to say right now.”*

*The Scranton Times Tribune (Jul 6, 2012) – Vote on DRBC drilling rules unlikely before November

DRBC-Marcellus overlap