House Committee Hears Testimony On Delaware, Susquehanna River Basin Commissions

The House State Government Committee Monday held a hearing on issues related to “regulatory overreach” by the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basin Commissions.

In introductory remarks, Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-Wayne) said the Delaware River Basin Commission has morphed into a “dangerous,” “unaccountable” and “rogue” agency that has harmed landowners in his district.

The issue Rep. Fritz was referring, but did not state, was the temporary and now proposed permanent moratorium on oil and gas fracking by the Delaware River Basin Commission. He said his constituents are being treated differently than other citizens in the state which represents an “injustice” and “discrimination.”

House Resolution 515 sponsored by Rep. Fritz opposing the proposed moratorium was passed by House Republicans in October.  The House Republican Policy Committee had a hearing on the issue and a failed federal lawsuit by Wayne County landowners in November.

Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) provided an overview of House Bill 2222 he sponsored which directs the Department of Environmental Protection too replace the interstate Delaware and Susquehanna River Basin Commissions in the regulation of groundwater and extend that authority statewide.

Rep. Moul said his bill would eliminate the current redundant regulation of groundwater withdrawals by the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basin Commissions and DEP.

He also said the Susquehanna River Basin Commission was set up to regulate surface water and have no authority to regulate groundwater.

[Note: DEP has no statutory authority to regulate the withdrawal of groundwater.  It only has authority to regulate the withdrawal of water by supply water companies from surface water sources.

[DEP can only collect information on how much water is being withdrawn from surface and ground water sources under the Water Resources Planning Act of 2002.

[In fact, the 2002 Act specifically says, “Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to authorize a delegation to the Statewide committee or the department of any power to regulate, control or require permits for the withdrawal or use of water.”

[In addition, no state or federal statutory authority exists to regulate the withdrawal of ground or surface water from sources in the Ohio River Watershed in the entire Western part of the state.

[Both the Susquehanna and Delaware River Compacts has explicit authority to regulate ground and surface water withdrawals in their respective areas.]

Kyle Gallagher, Appalachian Utilities, Inc. from Lock Haven, repeated testimony he gave in a previous Committee field hearing about water permitting issues he has with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission pointing to the cost of permits and the work required to prepare them for his system that serves 3,000 people.

Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Adams told the Committee he believes the Delaware River Basin Commission stands in the way of economic development in his County with its regulation of water withdrawals and water quality, and oil and gas development in particular with its proposed fracking moratorium.

Adams said he believes science should be brought to bare on regulating oil and gas drilling and not a blanket moratorium, especially with the track record of gas development in other areas of the state. 

He noted he and his wife have their names on the deeds of over 5,000 acres in the county.

Adams also supported legislation introduced by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne)-- Senate Bill 1189-- that would declare the fracking moratorium in the Delaware River Basin a taking of property.  [Senate Bill 1198 is due to be considered by the Senate Environmental Resources and  Energy Committee June 12.]

He said property owners should be compensated for the loss of the right to develop their land.  He suggested a water use fee be imposed on water users in the Delaware Watershed to pay oil and gas rights owners.  He estimated the fee would be about $20 per month per person.

[Note: Since 1988, Pennsylvania has been responsible for 25 percent of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s budget.]

Betty Sutliff, Upper Delaware River Basin Citizens, a pro-gas development group, pointed to contradictory statements and actions by Gov. Wolf on gas development saying he did not support a moratorium originally and favored strengthening drilling regulations.

Wolf’s support for the DRBC’s proposed moratorium on fracking contradicts these statements.

As a result, she said Wayne County landowners are being treated differently than all other landowners in Pennsylvania that can develop their oil and gas rights. 

Sutliff said the moratorium means a $150,000 of loss of income for her, plus future royalties.

All 67 counties in Pennsylvania should be governed by the same law, not regulated differently by the Delaware River Basin Commission she said.

Thomas Shepstone, Shepstone Management Company, and Ned Lang, President of the Upper Delaware River Basin Citizens, expressed concerns similar to Commissioner Adams and Betty Sutliff.

David Spigelmyer, President, Marcellus Shale Coalition, noted Pennsylvania has over 8,000 producing unconventional natural gas wells in 33 counties which accounted for 20 percent of the gas production in the United States in 2017.

“More than $150 million had been invested in northeast Pennsylvania to secure leases, plan for development, and drill several exploratory wells,” said Spigelmyer.  “Yet, with no end to the de facto moratorium in sight, and plenty of options elsewhere, the companies vacated these leases, and the economic opportunities lost for those mineral owners.

“Economically, this inability to develop the resource was devastating. Initial bonus lease payments totaled over $100 Million, but another nearly $187.5 Million was never paid due to the invocation of force majeure.

“Over 1,500 leases - affecting thousands of landowners - were terminated. The total economic impact to the region-- the loss of upwards of $8 Million into the local economy per well, and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost royalty revenue-- is impossible to calculate.

“We need to look no further than the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) to realize the absurdity of the DRBC's actions.

“For more than a decade now, the SRBC has safely managed water resources, while allowing for responsible development of property rights. Indeed, the unconventional natural gas industry has worked closely with the SRBC to ensure that water withdrawals and water usage within the basin are done in a safe and responsible manner.

“SRBC has adopted a regulatory framework that is workable, flexible, protects our water resources and respects the needs of other users. Furthermore, the industry has developed an excellent working relationship with the SRBC and has found their staff to be professional and accessible in executing their charge of water management and environmental protection.

“To date, the DRBC has squandered this incredible opportunity - and neglected their obligation - to build a similar relationship with industry in order to mirror similar responsible development within its basin.

“This decade of experience -bolstered by repeated scientific studies undertaken by SRBC - has demonstrated that unconventional natural gas development has occurred within the Susquehanna River Basin with no discernable impact on our water resources.

“This is a testament to both industry and the SRBC, and a model that should have been emulated within the DRBC.

“Make no mistake, the landowners and property owners of Wayne and Pike counties have suffered under this moratorium, not to mention the consumers in and around the basin. The economic loss to the Delaware basin is evidenced in the capital being invested in other shale opportunities in Pennsylvania, the Tri-State region, and other basins across the country.

“We have already lost 10 years of capital investment, enhanced energy security, and proving the resource capability of the resources in the basin.

“This means we have also lost 10 years of job opportunities, lease bonus payments and royalty income for landowners - which translates to deferred retirements, deferred college, inability to pass down the family farm, and many other determinants that need not to have happened if the DRBC had simply done its job instead of playing politics with people's livelihoods.”

Steve Tambini, Executive Director Delaware River Basin Commission, provided an overview of the DRBC’s formation, operation and accomplishments.

"We strive to be fair, responsive, open, and solution-oriented. We invite the regulated community and other stakeholders to serve on our water resources advisory committees, and we ensure the DRBC commissioners receive the committees’ input, including dissenting views,” he said.

DRBC provided the Committee with 30 letters from water companies and others DRBC regulates in support of the Commission.

“Understandably, those who are regulated by state agencies and the DRBC are at times confused about our unique roles and responsibilities. 

“Although the DRBC and state programs are not duplicative, and we have good working relationships with the water resource agencies of all four basin states, including the PADEP, we have certainly heard the “duplication” theme before.

“For this reason, over the past several years DRBC has worked with our commissioners and state agencies to find ways to improve and streamline the regulatory process.

“In 2015, we initiated a program called “One Process One Permit,” whereby the DRBC works with each state agency that elects to participate, to ensure that DRBC standards are included in the agency’s permits.

“Regulated entities apply to just one agency and receive a single approval that contains all state and DRBC requirements. In addition, where this program has been implemented in New Jersey and New York, the applicant pays just one application fee – the state fee.

“Pennsylvania agencies to date have not availed themselves of the One Process One Permit Program; however, DRBC is more than willing to work with the PADEP to implement this program in Pennsylvania when and if the Department so requests.”

[Note: DEP has no statutory authority to regulate the withdrawal of groundwater.  It only has authority to regulate the withdrawal of water by supply water companies from surface water sources.]

Click Here for a Summary of DRBC Benefits to Pennsylvania.

Other written testimony was submitted by: Philadelphia Water Department, Montgomery County Planning Commission, Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery), Delaware Riverkeeper Network, East Latitude LLC and the PA Septage Management Association.

This is one of a series of hearings and actions taken by Republicans on the Committee related to what they see as “regulatory overreach” by DRBC and SRBC.

The Committee hearings led to House Republicans passing a series of “regulatory reform” bills and to propose the introduction of House Bill 2222 in April to have DEP take over the groundwater regulation functions of the two river basin commissions.

Click Here for a video of the June 11 hearing.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to:   Rep. Matthew Bradford (D-Montgomery) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-772-2572 or sending email to:


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Legislation Would Require DRBC To Compensate Landowners Affected By Fracking Ban

Letter: Sen. Baker’s Fracking Ban As Property Taking Bill Is A Bad Idea

Delaware RiverKeeper June 15 RiverWatch Video Report

Related Stories:

Bill Would Require DEP To Replace Delaware, Susquehanna River Basin Commissions In Regulating Groundwater

House Passes Bills Changing Regulation, Permit Process In Ways That Puts Politics Ahead Of Science, Adds More Bureaucracy

DRBC: No Timetable For Finalizing Fracking Ban, Makes Comments Available

House Republican Policy Committee Hears Testimony On Proposed Delaware Watershed Drilling Ban

[Posted: June 11, 2018]


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