Natural Gas Drillers Leaving Wayne County

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DAMASCUS TOWNSHIP -- Two natural gas drilling companies have pulled out of our area, cutting ties with 1,300 families who had leases in Wayne County.

Hess Corporation and Newfield Appalachia say it is a business decision.  Newfield is going to focus on oil.

We talked with landowners who lost their leases.  They blame the Delaware River Basin Commission.  It has forbidden drilling in Wayne County for years now.

For years natural gas drilling has been booming in the Marcellus Shale throughout Pennsylvania, but the land in Wayne County has been "frack free."

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is the process of using liquid to break up underground shale to extract natural gas.

Now the two companies with the most leases there are pulling out.

"For it to come to this is just very frustrating. We put so much time and effort into it."

Bob Ruttledge is president of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance.  It represented around 1,300 families that got leases with Hess Corporation and Newfield Appalachia.

"We managed to bring together over 100,000 acres, 1,300 families, all through a grassroots effort, phone calls, emails. It was just a tremendous effort, thousands and thousands of hours to do it and it was basically all for naught," said Ruttledge.

Ruttledge blames the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), the agency that oversees the Delaware River watershed.

It has a moratorium on natural gas drilling. The only place that directly impacts is Wayne County. It falls almost completely in that watershed, including the land that was leased by Hess and Northfield.

"They can't sit here and wait forever. They have to move on and make money.  I don't blame them at all. It's 100 percent on the DRBC, as far as I'm concerned," said Ruttledge.

The DRBC was supposed to make a ruling on regulations for natural gas drilling in November of 2011. That was put on hold so more research could be done.  The commission says this is a vital resource that must be protected.  Landowners with gas leases say the commission is stalling.

"The DRBC is completely violating the constitution," said Jay Vail.

The Vail family runs a farm stand near Rileyville and had many acres leased. They say the drillers ending that lease really hurts,and so does the ban on drilling.

"It would help out wonderful. We could make it then and not have to fret every day to see if we can make enough to make the next day go," said Lynita Vail.

The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance says its next step may be to sue the Delaware River Basin Commission.

But the DRBC insisted on Tuesday it is doing the important task of finding the right balance between natural gas production and, most importantly, protecting the river and the surrounding environment.

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