Welcome to Wayne County

Home of folks who know a thing or two about clean energy from the Marcellus Shale — and aren’t afraid to tell DRBC how to use it

Before there was a Hoover, Grand Coulee or Niagara, there was a Wallenpaupack – a manmade lake dug out of Pike and Wayne counties featuring a state-of-the-art dam and 44-megawatt hydroelectric generator. It was a project that took 2,700 men and five million board feet of Douglas-fir to complete. But when it was done, folks in northeast Pennsylvania found themselves in possession of a clean energy resource that could be converted safely and efficiently into jobs and opportunity for the region. That, and a lake full of walleye.

Nearly 85 years removed from the dedication of Lake Wallenpaupack, residents of the Upper Delaware are at it again today. Just like back then, they’re looking to harness the promise and potential of clean energy in a way that makes a better future possible for themselves and their grandkids. These days, though, their focus is on the opportunities available through the development of clean-burning natural gas – and specifically, from the world-class shale formation known as the Marcellus.

How much natural gas are we talking here? Across the entire Marcellus, potentially an awful lot – as much as 516 trillion cubic feet if the geologists have it right, which, if actualized, would make the Marcellus the second largest natural gas field in the entire world (behind one in Iran, of all places).

But here’s a little wrinkle for you: News out of Harrisburg this week suggests the Marcellus resource base in Northeast PA may be a lot more significant than some had initially thought. Looking for a sweet-spot? Turns out 19 of the top 20 producing natural gas wells in the state over the past year can be found in a three-county stretch along the northern tier. Laura Legere of the Times-Tribune has more:

Of the top 20 producing wells, all but one are in Susquehanna, Bradford or Tioga counties. Raymond Deacon, an analyst with Pritchard Capital Partners LLC, sorted the wells’ production depending on how long they were on line in order to measure their performance. “It seemed like in every case, all the counties in the Northeast really stood out as being among the strongest in terms of production,” he said.

West to east, that’s Tioga, Bradford and Susquehanna. Can you name the county that comes next? It’s Wayne, with Pike County to the immediate south. So what do you think the chances are that folks up in Wayne and Pike are sitting atop a reservoir with the same sort of natural gas potential as they’re seeing from their neighbors? Pretty good, right? Unfortunately, and as we’ve written in the past, if the West Trenton, N.J.-based Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has its way, those folks may never get to know one way or the other.

But sort through the weekend boating crowd, and set aside the second-summer-home crew from Manhattan, and you’ll find a group of folks in the area who have been part of that community for three, four, even five generations or more. Folks whose ancestors came to Honesdale back in the day to work on the railroads; others who can trace their lineage back to 19th century bridge builders from Milford. And guess what? Turns out these people aren’t all that keen about letting an out-of-state commission deny them the ability to develop their private mineral rights without a fight – or at least an explanation.

What exactly do they want, and why exactly do they want it? Take a look for yourself. Released earlier this week by the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, and co-signed by more than dozen local landowner, farmer and small business groups, the document linked to above (and here again) puts forth 10 separate requests that, under any other normal circumstance, before any other normal commission, would likely have already been incorporated as a matter of course. That’s not the case with the DRBC. But that’s not stopping folks on the PA side of the river from making their position on the matter crystal clear.

The natural gas industry offers unparalleled economic opportunities for the region with extremely limited impacts on the natural environment. No industry offers so much, with so small a footprint on the land that supports our tourism industry and lifestyle. … Our three principal counties suffer incomes that are 30-65% below those of the remainder of the DRBC region, with a median household income of only $44,000 a year. … The benefits to the nation from development of such clean energy here at home … compel us to insist the DRBC move forward promptly with regulation to ensure responsible gas drilling can take place now.

As you’ll see, the document not only stands up as a powerful public statement, but it’s also just dripping with substance. How does natural gas stack up with other energy when it comes to water usage? “It requires 0.84 to 3.70 gallons of water to produce one million BTUs of natural gas energy … compared with more than 2,500 gallons per one million BTUs of biofuels energy” – and according to federal reports, that’s on the conservative end. What about those who say the area’s lost too much forestland over the years? “A detailed land use study … found forest cover increased by 44,458 acres or 16.7% between 1959 and 2008.”

But wait, there’s more. Looking to catch up on the latest trends in the world of well-spacing? “Three years ago, the speculation was that each gas well might serve 40 acres. Two years ago, a 640-acre unit with four wells became standard. Today, Marcellus Shale companies are proposing 1,280-acre units on which they can potentially drill dozens of wells on less than a single five acre pad.” Sit down and listen up, DRBC. You may actually learn something here.

Of course, despite a high-profile EPA study that confirms the safety of fracturing technology, and more than 60 years of history and experience backing those findings up, DRBC finds itself today under a good bit of pressure from the naysayers as well. Their demand? DRBC must conduct a “cumulative” (read: multi-year) examination of the Marcellus before even thinking about issuing anything close to a permit. A letter sent to the Commission this week by Congressman Maurice Hinchey, a reflexive opponent of shale in particular and non-subsidized energy in general, makes this point abundantly clear:

I am writing to express my concerns regarding the Delaware River Basin Commission’s proposed regulations for natural gas exploration and production in the Delaware River Basin. … [I]t is difficult to understand how the DRBC can consider the release of gas drilling regulations without a comprehensive assessment of the possible impacts in the Delaware River Basin.

Delay, deny, and fight ‘til it dies — it’s strategy that’s as old as time itself. You know how it goes: An extra study here, an extended comment period there, a request for injunction if all else fails — anything to save opponents of affordable, job-creating energy from being put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend that proposition honestly, directly and on its own merits.

But good luck trying to bleed the air out of the tires on the NWPOA, fellas. These guys won’t be denied, and if Scott McConnell’s Times-Tribune article today is any indication, they won’t be ignored either. To wit:

Economic development organizations and landowner groups in Wayne County issued a stinging criticism Thursday against the Delaware River Basin Commission for enacting a moratorium on natural gas drilling and causing a deep negative economic impact by effectively halting development. … “We want to get the debate started and put our position out,” said Peter Wynne, spokesman, Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance.

It’s never been bad advice to come loaded for bear when visiting Wayne Co, Pa. But don’t expect to find any bull.