Protection of Delaware River Watershed Contested in Pennsylvania

by Duane Nichols on January 14, 2021

Northeast Pennsylvania is part of the Marcellus shale zone

Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers sue over Delaware River drilling ban

From an Article by Michael Rubinkam / Associated Press, StateImpact Penna., January 12, 2021

(Harrisburg) — Two Republicans claim the Delaware River Basin Commission overstepped its authority and usurped the Legislature with its moratorium on natural gas development.

Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania are seeking to overturn a ban on gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River basin, filing a federal lawsuit against the regulatory agency that oversees drinking water quality for more than 13 million people.

Senate Republicans led by Sens. Gene Yaw and Lisa Baker claim the Delaware River Basin Commission overstepped its authority and usurped the Legislature with its moratorium on natural gas development near the river and its tributaries.

The senators want a federal court to invalidate the ban, potentially opening a sliver of northeastern Pennsylvania to what their lawsuit describes as $40 billion worth of natural gas. The gas is found in the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest gas field, whose vast reserves spurred a drilling boom elsewhere in Pennsylvania more than a decade ago.

Maya van Rossum, who leads the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental watchdog group, accused GOP lawmakers of “carrying the water of the industry,” saying their suit is “an absolute betrayal of trust in terms of their legislative obligation to serve the people of Pennsylvania, not the frackers.”

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a long-running battle over drilling and fracking near the Delaware, which supplies drinking water to Philadelphia and half of New York City. A Pennsylvania landowners group is also challenging the basin commission’s right to regulate gas development. Baker and Yaw sought to intervene in that 2016 case — which is still being litigated — but a court ruled they lacked standing.

The commission, which regulates water quality and quantity in the Delaware and its tributaries, first imposed a moratorium on drilling and fracking in 2010 to allow its staff to develop regulations for the gas industry. A year later, the five-member panel was scheduled to vote on a set of draft regulations that would have allowed gas development to proceed, but it abruptly canceled a vote amid opposition from some commission members.

In 2017, the basin commission reversed course and began the process of enacting a permanent ban on drilling and fracking, the technique that has enabled a U.S. production boom in shale gas and oil.

The new litigation, filed Monday in federal court in Philadelphia, contends the de facto ban has deprived private landowners of the right to drilling royalties, and has prevented Pennsylvania from leasing public lands to the gas industry and collecting fees from gas development.

The suit argued the ban’s “deleterious effects” have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, with the state and local governments facing significant budget shortfalls.

Even if the suit were to succeed, however, it’s far from certain that drilling could take place on public lands within the Delaware watershed. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, imposed a moratorium on new drilling leases on all state-owned land in 2015. That moratorium remains in effect.

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Senator Brewster Begins Another Term in Penna. Senate

Takes oath of office today in Harrisburg ceremony, EIN presswire

Harrisburg – January 13, 2021 – State Senator Jim Brewster (D) was sworn in today for another term in the Pennsylvania State Senate, serving constituents in portions of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties.

“It is an honor and privilege to serve the citizens in the 38 communities that are a part of the 45th District,” Brewster said. “I will continue to pursue a broad agenda that is focused on families.

“My legislative proposals include measures to promote job creation, economic development, tax relief, education support and safety, and help for those who are in need.”

The lawmaker has also proposed plans to help small businesses and families during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to institute a responsible energy extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drillers and to use the revenue to fund education and environmental protection. He is also the prime sponsor of a package of bills to reform the legislature and make it more transparent, including eliminating per diems, state vehicles, and a gift ban.

Brewster was first elected to the Senate in a special election in 2010. He was re-elected in 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Brewster said there are great challenges ahead for lawmakers this session. A budget deficit and the continuing challenges from the pandemic, he said. Even amid these substantive and difficult issues, he said that there was an opportunity to address issues involving local government.

“As the former mayor of McKeesport, I know the difficulties that economically-stressed communities face,” Brewster said. “Lawmakers in Harrisburg also need to focus on addressing the problems of small cities and struggling communities across Pennsylvania.”

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