January 13, 2012

Explaining “Extraordinary”

The Natural Gas Guidelines of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy state:

The Delaware Highlands Conservancy will not accept new conservation easements for properties for which a surface-disturbance gas lease is in effect or accept a new easement that would allow for the donor or a subsequent owner to sign a surface-disturbance lease. However, if, in the judgment of the Land Protection Committee (LPC), the property is large enough, has extraordinary conservation values, and the terms of the gas lease would not permit activities that could impair those conservation values, then the Land Protection Committee may set forth the extraordinary characteristics of the property, describe the measures that have been or will be imposed to ensure that gas extraction does not harm the conservation values of the property, and recommend that the Board waive this prohibition and accept the easement. The Board may in its sole discretion reject the LPC’s recommendation and decline to accept the easement.

The Conservancy maintains the “extraordinary” exception in our land protection approach to properties with potential gas issues in the event that a property with exceptional conservation values, for example, endangered species, important water resources, or agricultural lands, could be doubly harmed without protection.

For example, if landowner with a 1000 acre property that has important clean water sources and wetlands wants to protect his/her property with a conservation easement and simultaneously maintain his/her option to sign a lease with a gas company, the Conservancy would carefully consider the request. Our concern would be that the property owner, especially if he/she needed financial assistance to maintain the property whole, could both sign a gas lease and subdivide the property for housing or other developments. In this case, protecting the property with an easement would at least mitigate the impacts from development to the important clean water sources and wetlands.

In the case of any property deemed worthy of consideration under the “extraordinary” exception, the property would go through a stringent consideration process. This process entails analysis by the Land Protection Committee to determine if the property meets all the Conservancy’s criteria for the “extraordinary” exception. Once the Land Protection Committee affirms a property meets the standard, the Board has final say over the decision to proceed with any easement.

For more specific information regarding the “extraordinary” designation, please call the Conservancy at 570-226-3164 or 845-583-1010 or email info@delawarehighlands.org.