Appalachian Basin

Guest Viewpoint: DRBC’s Fracking Moratorium and Potential Ban Are Immoral and Illegal

Bill Shaughnessy is a landowner from Wayne County, Pa., who has been unable to develop his minerals over the past seven years due to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s de facto oil and gas moratorium. This is his story of how the moratorium has affected his family, and how DRBC’s recent announcement that it is considering enacting regulations that could ban oil and gas development in the Basin could affect the region moving forward.

It’s been almost seven years to the day since my family and I were sitting with my dying father, going over the natural gas lease we had just received from Hess Corporation through a group of neighbors known as the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA).

It was not exactly a time of celebration, but my father took solace in knowing the 228 acres he and my mom had worked so hard for over the years were not only going to stay in the family indefinitely, but could possibly shape the lives of his children, grandchildren and beyond thanks to the prospect of natural gas development.  He drew comfort from knowing the Damascus Township property we grew up on, learned to care for, respect and protect would be able to give back for generations, and yet still remain almost completely intact.  He was aware of what hydraulic fracturing involved, and had studied its effects and leases from multiple gas companies before signing.  He knew long after he was gone, the future of our family would potentially be changed forever – and for the better.

What my parents didn’t know at that time was the battle that lay ahead due to a relatively unknown entity called the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The DRBC has denied my family and many of our neighbors the right to develop minerals on our own private property via a de facto fracking moratorium for the past seven years. Worse, DRBC has now announced plans to permanently ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin.

A lot has changed since my dad succumbed to melanoma on Jan. 2, 2010, and my mother succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2013. But unfortunately, the DRBC’s immoral and illegal denial of my family’s right to adhere to our parents’ dying wishes to develop minerals on the private property they left us is not one of them.

And our story is just one of dozens throughout Wayne and Pike counties.

Working the land to make a life along the Delaware River

The last seven years have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs for many living in the Delaware River Basin.  Wayne County is a very special place to so many, both residents and occasional visitors alike.  But it’s a changing climate from when I grew up there.

In the 70s, I would go with my dad on service calls to fix refrigeration systems on dairy farmers’ bulk tanks.  Our family not only serviced many local dairy farms, but sold them the equipment for their milking machines.  I saw firsthand what the local farmers, many of which were and still are my friends to this day, went through on a daily basis. Farmers are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and the work is never ending.  It was, and still is, a labor of love for the Wayne County dairy farmer.  Unless you have witnessed a farm in action, words cannot describe the hard work that the local farmer has to put in through every type of weather, illness or financial challenge.

Wayne County also had a thriving logging industry and quarries dotting the landscape in those days. Thousands of jobs were either supported or benefited from the hard work of all of these industries. That work ethic carried over into many of the people of the area and created true Americana: the realization of the American Dream to work hard and if times are tough — work harder.  You can see this spirit to this day in my birthplace of Honesdale.

Sadly, many of those proud farms are now rusted skeletons of a time gone by.  Many of those loggers have taken other jobs to support their families.  Many of my friends who once worked the family farm have been forced out of the area they love to find a living elsewhere. Construction, real estate, retail, employment, jobs, etc. — they all lag far behind neighboring Susquehanna County and beyond.

Many of the above mentioned could have been saved by being allowed to harvest their own minerals on their own private property with the leases that were signed seven years ago.  Unfortunately, the DRBC and extreme activist organizations such as the Delaware Riverkeeper —led by Maya van Rossum, the William Penn Foundation, Hollywood elites, and others — all decided that it was their duty to deprive citizens of our constitutional rights. The recent vote to allow a DRB fracking ban by the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and, yes — even with an abstention — New Jersey, shows they are all on board to continue trampling on our rights.

What is the DRBC’s intended purpose?

The DRBC is an interesting government organization, to say the least. It was formed in 1961 under President Kennedy and the governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.  Delaware jumped in there somewhere along the line as well.  According to the DRBC website the Commission programs include, “water quality protection, water supply allocation, regulatory review (permitting), water conservation initiatives, watershed planning, drought management, flood loss reduction, and recreation.”

Notice that nowhere in the above quote is land use or anything related to mineral rights mentioned. So by effectively regulating land use projects such as natural gas drilling that merely use water — water that would be legally permitted and provided by sources that have nothing to do with the Delaware River — the DRBC’s de facto fracking moratorium exceeds the agency’s authority. The DRBC simply has no legal jurisdiction to impose either the de facto moratorium that’s been in place for seven years or the permanent fracking ban that is currently being considered.

But make no mistake: The DRBC can and will expand its “territories” to other state agencies if its overreach is not immediately stopped and held in check.

DRBC is using fear to push an agenda

The Delaware River does not supply drinking water to 15-17 million people, as so many media organizations and environmentalist groups claim. This is a very important fact when discussing Wayne and Pike County and the Delaware River.

In fact, the only way to possibly get 15-17 million people would be to include New York City, which receives its water from reservoirs situated in the basin that are not fed by the Delaware River. New York City does not get its water from the Delaware River.

Philadelphia does get 60 percent of its drinking water from the Delaware River intakes at Torresdale in Northeast Philadelphia, roughly 180 Miles from Wayne County. The total population of Philadelphia in 2017 was 1,567,872.  Multiply that times .60 and you get 940,723.  Add the population of Easton Pa., Port Jervis, N.Y., and lets double that for arguments sake, and you get just more than one million people using the Delaware River for drinking water.

The reason I spent time on this statistic is that fear has been used to create doubt within the general population on not only the safety of hydraulic fracturing, but the impact it could have if the unlikely event of an accident actually occurred.  This fear and the spread of propaganda has assisted the DRBC in voting last week to ban fracking in Wayne and Pike counties.

It’s not just morally wrong, it’s illegal.

The DRBC is an organization that is not elected by the citizens, is voted on by the governors of four states and the federal government, and has no federal oversight to speak of, yet has taken it upon itself to determine how you can and cannot harvest your minerals. As Thomas Jefferson said,

“The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”

This is illegal, immoral and — make no mistake — there is a takings claim coming.  It will involve the DRBC and all the voting states.  There are various layers of shale under our feet, not just the Marcellus.  The number for taking our mineral rights could easily be in the billions of dollars.  How are the states going to pay for this? Why would they bow to political pressure from big money activist organizations knowing full well they are violating the very Constitution our country is founded upon?  The answer is: because they can.

That’s it.  That’s the answer.  Unless and until we defend ourselves in court, the constitution has been stepped on, disregarded, and thrown to the curb.  It’s not a slippery slope — we have already gone right over the edge.

The framers of the Constitution were cognizant of some very basic freedoms that the basis of their entire article was written upon.  In particular, Amendments III-V all have to do with personal and property rights:

Amendment III – No quarter of soldiers in a time of peace without consent of the owner.

Amendment IV– Right of the people to secure personal effects, unreasonable searches, probable cause, warrants describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V–  “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Three of the top five Amendments relate to Private Property and the unlawful seizure of personal effects, aka mineral rights.

In the last seven years, I have heard it all and seen it all as far as arguments from those that would take what is mine.  The science is settled — fracking is not a major threat to drinking water. Activists can argue against this all day, but it won’t change the facts. This article would turn into a book if I got into the specifics of every argument against fracking and countered with scientifically proven answers debunking all of them.  That is for another post.  We in the DRB have been on our slippery slope for seven years and are now in a free fall over the edge.  Don’t be fooled if you don’t live in this basin.  The actions of the DRBC et al. could very well happen to you.

This is everyone’s problem. Most just don’t realize it until it’s too late. So for now, we’ll keep fighting here in the DRB to prevent the last seven years from happening elsewhere and for the hope that my dad’s wishes – and those of his neighbors – will become reality.

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