PA Imposes Moratorium on Gas Drilling in Northern Chester Co

The provision halting fracking was attached to a state budget measure which lawmakers approved late Saturday night.

Companies that want to drill for natural gas will have to wait.

State lawmakers on Saturday night approved a moratorium on gas drilling in Bucks, Montgomery and parts of Lehigh, Berks and Chester counties. The moratorium will affect any oil or gas operations in the South Newark Basin, which underlies a swath of territory extending from Bucks through Chester and into Berks County.

Do you agree with the moratorium? Tell us in the comments.

The moratorium is needed so scientists and engineers can better study the gas deposits held deep below ground, lawmakers said Saturday.

It was passed as an amendment to the state's fiscal code, in SB 1263. (Click here to read the full text of the bill or for more information.)

The state House and Senate approved the budget late Saturday and Gov. Tom Corbett signed it just before midnight, the end of the state's current fiscal year.

Background on Area Geology

A 2011 report from the United States Geologic Survey outlined the results of surveys of five basins along the east coast, from northern New Jersey down to North Carolina. The study was released on June 20, 2012.

One of those basins, the South Newark Basin, underlies much of Bucks and Montgomery counties, according to the report. Geologists estimate that basin contains at least 363 billion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas deposits, and could contain much more. They estimated the mean amount to be 876 billion cubic feet.

The five basins together hold an estimated mean natural gas resource of 3,860 billion cubic feet, the report concluded.

Confronted with evidence that gas drilling could, indeed, affect the area, lawmakers scrambled to amend Act 13, the controversial state law regulating drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The technique drilling companies use to fracture the rock formation to release the gas, called fracking, has faced stiff opposition from those worried about the environmental and health affects of the practice.

"The recent report by USGS has shed a new light on the possible circumstances in Bucks and other southeast PA counties. We believe it is necessary, given this new information, that these counties must be given the opportunity to have a greater say about things happening in their own backyard," Mensch said in the joint statement. "Originally Act 13 was viewed as primarily an issue for the northern tier counties. This new information proves otherwise."


But while the moratorium exempts Chester and the other areas in the South Newark Basin from drilling for now, other parts of the state still must comply with Act 13. Some characterized it as a move by legislators in a wealthy part of the state to protect their backyards, while leaving other Pennsylvanians unprotected.

"Where was our study? Where was our six years?" Democratic Rep. Jesse White was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "What makes Bucks and Montgomery [counties] so special?"

White represents part of Washington County, on the far western Pennsylvania border, an area that hosts "a significant amount of Marcellus Shale drilling," according to the Pittsburgh newspaper.

The moratorium could run as long as six years, John Micek, The Morning Call's state politics reporter in Harrisburg, reported on the blog, Capitol Ideas. The addendum prevents drilling permits from being issued until a state study of the formation is completed, or until 2018, whichever comes first.

Jared August 03, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Joshua Collins August 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Renewables are too expensive, eh? Time to start smashing that bit of false information. http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2012/07/26/photovoltaics-from-any-semiconductor/
. August 14, 2012 at 06:15 PM
This is simply a NIMBY solution. We in Montgomery, Lehigh, Berks and Chester counties are are the wealthiest areas in the state and can push our elected officials to not allow drilling. Meanwhile the poor hillbillies in the north and west of PA have no choice but to see their land and water ruined as their officials sell out to the drillers. They are leasing and selling their land for pennies on the dollar because they can barely put food on the table. Corbett knows darn well he has NO CHANCE to win re-election if he can't carry Mont Co. and Chester County. He also knows he would lose those areas if he allowed drilling to take place there as even fellow Republicans would bulk at their water being poluted. Money talks plain and simple. ANYONE who doesn't work in the energy industry who votes for Corbett next time around is either a brainwashed moron or partisan fool.
Liz Rosenbaum August 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Hi Richard, You don't really think people in Montgomery, Lehigh, Berks and Chester counties will ignore the plight of our "hillbillie" neighbors? Most people I speak to are very alarmed by the heavy industrialization in our state. And despite the wealth of their districts, legislators in the east have typically been opposed, and outmaneuvered, by their western counterparts. It's absolutely key for people in this region to pay great attention to what's happening in Pennsylvnia's "Sacrifice Zone."
. August 14, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Liz, Corbett campaigned on the platform of expanding drilling and won by an easy margin. Most of the Republicans in this area could care less about anyone but themselves. Hopefully enough people have now seen the light but by 2014 the damage will already be done to our "hillbillie" neighbors. Elections have consquences.


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