Gov. Tom Corbett urged the Delaware River Basin Commission to lift a three-year moratorium on gas drilling, saying it has depressed economic growth in northeastern Pennsylvania and deprived landowners of their property rights.
Corbett said the DRBC has had more than enough time to develop and implement regulations that would allow natural gas to be siphoned from the Marcellus Shale rock formation while protecting water quality in the Delaware River and its tributaries.
The moratorium has "discouraged the investment of private capital in the commonwealth and reflected poorly on the DRBC's ability to function effectively," Corbett wrote Thursday in a letter to Carol Collier, the agency's executive director.
DRBC representatives did not immediately return messages for comment Friday.
The agency monitors the drinking-water supply of more than 15 million people, including Philadelphia and half the population of New York City, and has banned Marcellus Shale drilling in the four-state basin until it approves rules governing the process.
The DRBC, which has representatives from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the federal government, published an initial set of draft drilling regulations in 2010, and made revisions after taking public comment. Commissioners were supposed to consider adoption of the rules in 2011 but abruptly canceled the vote. It has not been rescheduled.
The DRBC has not simply sat on its hands, but is moving cautiously, said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a group that opposes drilling in the basin.
"The moratorium makes perfect sense because the DRBC has not decided as an entity that gas drilling can proceed in the Delaware River watershed," she said. "Gov. Corbett made the decision to move full steam ahead with gas drilling (elsewhere in Pennsylvania) before he knew what it really entailed, and as a result of that communities are paying a terrible price."
But Corbett asserted in his letter that Pennsylvania's "stringent rules" for drilling have ensured natural gas is being developed responsibly.
He said drillers have closed offices, laid off staff and withheld lease payments as a result of the DRBC moratorium, and "communities have watched their neighbors outside the basin benefit tremendously."
The Marcellus Shale Coalition likewise called on the DRBC to drop the ban.
"Landowners in northeast Pennsylvania have the right to develop their own property, and the DRBC should move forward with issuing long-overdue regulations," said Kathryn Klaber, the coalition's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Over the past three years, while the DRBC stalled and stood in the way of landowners making decisions with respect to their private property, Pennsylvania has modernized and strengthened environmental safeguards to protect our air, water and land."