Appalachian Basin

Federal Court Rules DRBC Will Have to Go to Court Over Its Proposed Fracking Ban

Landowners in Wayne and Pike County, Pa., had a bit more reason to celebrate this Independence Day, as the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned a 2017 U.S. District Court ruling throwing out the landowners’ lawsuit against the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) over its nearly decade-long moratorium on natural gas development and recently proposed fracking ban. The U.S. District Court will now be tasked with determining whether or not fracking constitutes a “project” that the DRBC has authority to oversee.

As E&E News reported,

“The DRBC has jurisdiction over ‘projects’ in the basin that could affect water resources. The legal dispute centers on whether fracking counts as such a project under the terms of a 1961 compact that created the commission.

“The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said the term was unambiguous and sided with the DRBC last year. The 3rd Circuit rejected that conclusion today and is now remanding the issue to the lower court to do ‘fact-finding’ on the intent of the compact’s writers.”

While the courts will make a determination as to the validity of the DRBC’s alleged authority, the fact remains that there is no scientific justification for a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin (DRB). In fact, the neighboring Susquehanna River Basin Commission determined that shale development has had no “discernable impacts” on the Susquehanna River Basin, which is home to the majority of Pennsylvania’s unconventional wells.  And Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell recently testified that in regard to fracking, “what we’ve seen in the studies that we’ve seen are; it has been fine on the SRBC side.”

Activists inaccurately called into question the validity of the SRBC’s findings during recent hearings on the DRBC’s proposed fracking ban, yet that isn’t the only study to reach such conclusions. As EID’s recent infographic shows, there have been four peer-reviewed studies of the Appalachian Basin in the past 14 months that found fracking is not a major threat to groundwater.

The DRBC has yet to release the final draft regulations that include a ban on fracking in the DRB, and with this latest turn of events, it appears the courts will have the final say in whether or not it can legally do so. Regardless of the legal outcome, as the Scranton Times-Tribune editorial board recently noted, these scientific studies “should have a major place in the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision on whether to authorize deep drilling within the Delaware watershed.”

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