Pennsylvania governor pushes for expansion of gas production

Although Pennsylvania has benefited greatly from natural gas production, an interstate panel’s decision to restrict drilling near the Delaware River has proven costly for local economies.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is continuing to promote economic growth in the state by advocating the end of an obtrusive moratorium on natural gas production in parts of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Restrictions on drilling were put in place in 2010 by the Delaware River Basin Commission, which is made up of representatives from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the federal government. The commission has maintained that it is making progress on the development of key regulations needed to ensure the safety of the region's drinking water, but although it published a draft set of regulations in 2010, it has yet to hold a vote on the rules.

Corbett recently wrote to the organization to request that it put an end to the moratorium. The governor argued that three years is more than enough time to put a regulatory framework in place and that the commission is interfering with the right of Pennsylvanians to develop their property. U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has also joined the call to lift the drilling restrictions.

In response, the regulatory body's chairwoman, Michele Siekerka, wrote that staffers are doing everything they can to "move the natural gas process forward." She explained that there are many tasks that must be completed before the commission can allow drilling in the areas it is charged with protecting.

While this regulatory drama has dragged on, economic opportunities have been denied to the state and its residents. According to the Associated Press, Hess Corp. and Newfield Exploration Co. have both terminated leases in the area amid frustration with their inability to drill, perform drill stem testing and initiate production. This caused landowners to miss out on more than $100 million worth of payments that would have been due to them if gas wells had been developed.

A spokesman for Hess declined to comment when contacted by the AP, while a Newfield representative said the company's choice to pull out of northeastern Pennsylvania was a "business decision" that reflected the firm's commitment to focusing on oil production.

According to the AP, the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, which negotiated a master lease covering more than 1,300 residents and business owners, has threatened to sue the Delaware River Basin Commission over its refusal to lift the moratorium.