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December 08, 2016
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Environmental groups on gas leases; Did groups prevent drilling in the Upper Delaware Valley?

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Now that Newfield Appalachia PA LLC and Hess Corporation have pulled out of their gas leases in Wayne County, it seems unlikely that there will be gas drilling in the county—or for that matter in the Upper Delaware River Valley—at any time in the near future.

Preventing gas drilling in the region has been the goal of various environmental groups since at least 2008. But are the groups responsible for preventing drilling long enough that this latest development became inevitable? Three local groups responded to that question.

Barbara Arrindell, the director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), said the environmental groups “absolutely” played a major role in delaying drilling. She said, “Before DCS members started going to meetings of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) no one at the DRBC recognized what was involved in this type of gas drilling.”

The DRBC ultimately imposed a moratorium on drilling until it could come up with new regulations regarding hydraulic fracturing. The moratorium, Arrindell said, was sparked by DCS actions. She said, “The DRBC had to step in, after we presented paper after paper—a lot of them from industry—saying that damage is caused by these techniques. Grass roots activism had the impact that made the difference.”

She continued, “We were told by those promoting drilling in the beginning of 2008, when we first formed, that drilling in the Delaware River Basin was going to proceed at the same development rate as the Susquehanna River Basin.” The Susquehanna River Basin is now peppered with gas wells, while there are none in the Delaware River Basin.

Ramsay Adams, the executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, noted that while the companies said they pulled out of the leases because of the low price of gas, the environmental groups and everyone else can’t be sure of the reasons for pulling out, because gas exploration companies are involved in complex financial transactions and guard information closely.

Having said that, he added, “There is absolutely no way that our efforts—the collective grass roots—didn’t play a major role in this happening.” He, too, said the groups forced the DRBC to take gas drilling off the table at least temporarily.

Bruce Ferguson, of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, wrote in an email, “I’d like to think that Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and the regional organizations played a role, but there were a number of factors, apart from community opposition, that contributed to Hess’ decision. The DRBC still hasn’t promulgated drilling regulations for the Delaware Basin, and a gas glut has driven the price of natural gas below the cost of production. And let’s not forget that this decision was made after a number of test wells had been drilled in the area—I assume Hess found that Wayne County isn’t likely to be profitable—if it were a sweet spot, I bet Hess would still be holding onto its leases.”