HONESDALE, Pa. — Tim Riefler is at wit's end. His dairy farm is falling apart. His credit with the feed dealer is shot. The windmill that draws water for his cows is broken. He owes $20,000 in bills. With the drug scourge, he can't find reliable hired hands at $10 an hour — one worker drove an ATV through the barn wall, creating a hole that, well, you can drive through.
The outlook was much more positive for Riefler, 53, a decade ago, when shale-gas companies moved into northeastern Pennsylvania and began signing leases with thousands of Wayne County landowners to extract the natural gas beneath their lands. Many, including Riefler, received initial payments. Several test wells were drilled. He spent the money, not to indulge a dream and buy vintage muscle cars, but to invest in enhancements such as a $129,000 concrete manure storage tank to prevent cattle waste from flowing into a nearby creek.
But in 2010, the Delaware River Basin Commission imposed a temporary moratorium on more exploration until it adopted comprehensive regulations governing Marcellus Shale activity. The industry was stopped in its tracks. So were Riefler's dreams.
After years of inaction, last month the DRBC announced it would move forward to approve a permanent ban on drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Now, nobody is happy: not the landowners who favor drilling and say they've already lost hundreds of millions in income from the moratorium; not the environmental activists who fear the proposed regulations will still allow water withdrawals and wastewater disposal to support drilling elsewhere. The only thing they agree on: that the issue will end up in court.