Judge tosses suit seeking end to Delaware River drilling ban

A well pad on a Tioga County farm. There is a moratorium against drilling in the eastern part where the Delaware River Basin Commission has jurisdiction. (Scott Detrow/StateImpact Pennsylvania)

A well pad on a Tioga County farm. There is a moratorium against drilling in the eastern part where the Delaware River Basin Commission has jurisdiction. (Scott Detrow/StateImpact Pennsylvania)

A federal judge on Friday threw out a lawsuit by Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania that sought to overturn a ban on gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River basin, ruling they lacked standing to sue.

Senate Republicans led by Sens. Gene Yaw and Lisa Baker claimed the Delaware River Basin Commission overstepped its authority and usurped the Legislature with its moratorium on natural gas development near the river and its tributaries.

Judge Paul Diamond in Philadelphia ruled the GOP had no legal right to sue, writing the dispute “is primarily partisan and is best resolved through the political process.”

Diamond said the suit’s four municipal plaintiffs — Carbon and Wayne counties and Damascus and Dyberry Townships — also lacked standing, but gave them permission to refile the suit by July 1 to give them a chance to “articulate how the moratorium has actually injured them.”

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A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Matt Haverstick, said the ruling was under review.

“For now, I can just say that we’re disappointed,” he said.

The moratorium had been in place since 2010. In February, one month after the Republicans filed suit, the basin commission voted to permanently ban natural gas drilling and fracking near the Delaware, asserting that gas development poses an unacceptable risk.

The ban applies to the entire watershed but, practically speaking, impacts Wayne and Pike counties in Pennsylvania’s northeastern tip. Both are part of the nation’s largest gas field, the Marcellus Shale. Nearly 13,000 wells have been drilled elsewhere in the vast Marcellus formation, turning Pennsylvania into the nation’s No. 2 gas-producing state.

A Pennsylvania landowners group is also challenging the basin commission’s right to regulate gas development. Baker and Yaw sought to intervene in that 2016 case — which is still being litigated — but a court ruled they lacked standing.

The commission oversees the water supply of more than 13 million people in four Northeastern states.

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