HARRISBURG, PA — For years, Wayne County’s Rep. Jonathan Fritz has been fighting to open up Wayne County to natural gas drillers. He recently introduced two pieces of legislation to do …
HARRISBURG, PA — For years, Wayne County’s Rep. Jonathan Fritz has been fighting to open up Wayne County to natural gas drillers. He recently introduced two pieces of legislation to do just that.
The inability of companies to engage in hydraulic fracturing—the extraction of natural gas via high-pressure drilling of shale—is nothing new in Wayne County. For more than a decade, the Delaware River Basin Commission kept fracking out through a de-facto moratorium. Throughout that time, Fritz and other PA Republicans made various efforts to get that moratorium lifted.
Last year, the commission voted through an official ban on fracking—seen as a monumental victory for environmentalists, and as an outrage for proponents of natural gas. Now, Fritz has introduced two pieces of legislation that he hopes could reverse this ban.
Fritz responded to a request for comment following the newspaper’s print deadline. His comments on the topic will be reflected in a forthcoming piece.
The first, HB 2450, would fundamentally change the balance of power within the DRBC. As it currently stands, each state in the commission—Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, plus the federal government—gets a single vote on the issues they decide. Fritz’s bill would assign each party a vote based on how much land area it has in the basin, giving Pennsylvania six votes, New Jersey three, New York two, Delaware one and the federal government one.
The other bill, HB 2451, would unilaterally change the DRBC compact—the legal document through which the commission gains its authority—to reverse its fracking ban. Essentially, Fritz’s bill proposes an amendment to the compact so that the DRBC may only adopt and enforce rules and regulations “provided that the rules and regulations do not impede or interfere with… hydraulic fracturing.”
The representative is pointing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as justification for these bills.
“With Russia’s unjustifiable invasion of its neighbor, it has become crystal clear that we must do everything possible to increase our oil and gas production here within Pennsylvania, so our country and our allies around the world do not have to rely on energy produced in countries whose values are different than our own,” Fritz wrote in a memo to fellow House members. “The DRBC should not be dictating to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania how we should and should not be extracting our own resources. The stakes are simply too high to allow this indefensible action to stay in place any longer.”
He’s not the only PA Republican using the situation abroad to push a years-long agenda to deregulate the fossil fuel industries. Rep. Seth Grove has introduced the End Russian Aggression Act, which would increase drilling in the commonwealth, fund pipeline development, expand drilling permits and keep the commonwealth out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collective effort among several eastern states to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector.
In fact, Grove’s bill proposes that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection “may not adopt a measure or take any other action that is designed to abate, control, or limit carbon dioxide emissions… nor may the department establish a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, unless the General Assembly specifically authorizes such a measure.”
While lawmakers look to deregulate, the region’s environmental activists have spent the past several months working to expand the DRBC’s fracking restrictions. Although the commission banned fracking activities directly within the basin, it left the door open for the import and export of highly toxic wastewater from drilling activities elsewhere, such as the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin where natural gas extraction is a booming business.
Groups like the Delaware Riverkeeper Network are calling for an absolute ban on wastewater imports, exports and all other fracking-related activities in the basin, with no loopholes. The public comment period on the DRBC’s final rules and regulations closed in February, gaining nearly 2,500 public comment submissions. At press time, the commission has not scheduled a vote on these final rules.
“If fracking is too dangerous for the watershed, so is importing fracking wastewater,” a collective of regional activists wrote in a recent statement. “If fracking is too dangerous for communities in the watershed, it is too dangerous everywhere, so we can’t be feeding fracking with our precious water.”
“I totally support both [bills],” said Thomas Shepstone, a Wayne County landowner who has lobbied for the right to allow drilling on his own property. “Jonathan has done an outstanding job standing up for the rights of landowners and the citizens of Wayne County to fair treatment by the tyrannical, bought-and-paid-for DRBC.”
Editorial note: This article was updated as of 6 p.m. on April 6, 2022 to reflect Fritz's upcoming comments.
For more information on fracking and the DRBC, see the articles below:
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