Posts Tagged ‘Delaware River Basin Commission’

Continuous Pressure on Cuomo to Ban Fracking

Just a few weeks after the moratorium on new generation horizontal fracking for natural gas ended in New York State, the opposition held its second protest at Governor Cuomo’s office since. In addition, they have been calling the Governor every Monday and are holding another action next Wednesday. Fifty at the first protest (following hundreds two days earlier at Foley Square) at Cuomo’s since the moratorium ended, eighty people at the second, the movement in New York City has not shown to have accepted defeat.


The plan of the Governor and the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) is to ban fracking in public parks and forests, and in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. The resistance in New York City did not in any way shrink; in fact it swelled, treating this deal not as a compromise but as an unequal and potentially insufficient (as regarding major watersheds) deal.

Mayor Bloomberg, who came out in support of the plan, also supports infrastructure that will bring Marcellus Shale gas to New York City. In November he sent a letter to the DRBC (Delaware River Basin Commission) in opposition to fracking in the New York City Watershed specifically, based on a report that he funded known as the Hazen and Sawyer Report.


The natural gas industry tends to defend fracking as a practice over sixty years old (and some companies deny that any contamination of water due to fracking has ever occurred, while Aubrey Mcclendon on 60 Minutes admitted to past accidents). However, the opposition is over new generation-fracking, specifically drilling for gas in shale rock, and using a new mixture of chemicals.

According to David Braun of United for Action, vertical fracking (new generation) is currently happening -since former Governor Paterson issued an executive order last spring- but horizontal fracking, which uses more water and more chemicals, isn’t expected to be able to happen in New York until this following spring. “They’re releasing the final version of the SGEIS,” (supplemental generic environmental impact statement), said Braun, which will serve as a “regulatory structure.” Following the release of this document, says Braun, there will be a 60-day public comment period.

Environmentalists stress that fracking breaks up methane from shale into above aquifers; the “frack fluid” could spill into waterways, and that the waste water can’t be disposed of safely in New York. The industry stresses that it will create thousands of domestic jobs and burns cleaner than other fossil fuels. Green jobs, efficiency and renewable energy often aren’t mentioned in the debate, but when they are, are told from very different points of view. New York State recently passed an On-Bill Financing Law to create thousands of green jobs, but relies on awareness of property owners.
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MSC: Draft DRBC Regulations Duplicative, Exceed Body’s Legal Authority

Canonsburg, PA – Pursuant to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) public notice for comment on Proposed Amendments to the Water Quality Regulations, Water Code and Comprehensive Plan to Provide for Regulation of Natural Gas Development Projects (hereinto “draft regulations”), the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) this week submitted comments outlining concerns with the draft regulations, while emphasizing support for working with the DRBC throughout the regulatory process.

“The MSC supports DRBC in its stated mission of ensuring that proper environmental controls are provided to safeguard the water resources of the Delaware River Basin, and of establishing a regulatory scheme within the scope of DRBC authority that complements state and federal requirements,” said Kathryn Klaber, president of the MSC. “However, the MSC has significant concern regarding the scope of the draft regulations, which we believe exceed DRBC’s legal authority and duplicate member state jurisdiction and existing DRBC programs in several critical respects.”

Specifically, the MSC’s comments, in part cite the following areas of paramount concern:

  • · Requirements for the Siting, Design and Operation of Well Pads: The Draft Regulations contain very detailed and far-reaching land use requirements pertaining to the siting, design, construction and operation of well pads for natural gas activities – representing a significant and unnecessary departure from the agency’s role of managing water resources in the basin. These proposed regulations contain a host of new construction and operational standards that are either not required by or inconsistent with state regulatory requirements.
  • · Exceed the Scope of DRBC authority: DRBC’s regulatory authority is derived from, and thus limited by, the Delaware River Basin Compact, which established DRBC in 1961 as a regional agency to manage and control the water resources of the Delaware River Basin. The Compact does not grant DRBC review and approval authority over land use as outlined in the draft regulations.
  • · Duplicative of State Requirements: Both New York and Pennsylvania have comprehensive oil and gas regulatory programs.  DRBC should defer to the member state programs in all areas where they regulate, and thereby avoid unnecessary, duplicative requirements and administrative costs.
  • · Natural Gas Development Plan (NGDP) is Unworkable: A requirement to submit a 5-year NGDP for review and approval, which would compel operators to prepare detailed, forward-looking information about the development of all of their leasehold areas in the Basin, is unworkable and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the manner in which natural gas development occurs. This level of detail – over the entirety of an operator’s lease holdings to be developed in 5-years – would be impossible to assemble with any meaning or accuracy in advance.
  • · Water Related to Natural Gas Development: The Draft Regulations addresses water sources for uses related to natural gas development.  Much of this section is unnecessary, since DRBC already has a well-established program for review and approval of water withdrawals.  DRBC should utilize its existing program for Project Review under Section 3.8 of the Compact and should not adopt a special water source program for water used in natural gas operations.  No other industry is singled out by DRBC with an industry-specific water source regulation.

In addition to submitting formal comments, the MSC, partnering with American Petroleum Institute (API), requested an independent analysis of the draft regulations by ALL Consulting, a professional consulting firm specializing in water management, planning and energy development. The complete analysis, available HERE, was submitted to the DRBC for review and consideration. Following are several key findings of the analysis:

  • The consumptive water use requirements for natural gas development at full build-out, as compared to other water uses within the Basin, are relatively minor. The nuclear power industry uses more than 10 times the amount of water that would be used for natural gas development; golf course maintenance uses more than 20 times the amount; and thermoelectric power generation and agriculture use more than 45 times the amount.
  • The land footprint for natural gas development, as compared to other land uses, is relatively minor. The footprint for natural gas development would be less than the footprint for golf courses in the Basin and 50 times less than the footprint for homes in the Basin.
  • Absent a variance, the siting restrictions and setbacks contained in the Draft Regulations would preclude natural gas development in more than half of the land area overlying the Marcellus Shale formation in the Basin.
  • Many of the submittals, reporting requirements and notices required by the Draft Regulations are duplicative of host state requirements.
  • The process of applying for and obtaining approval to develop natural gas wells pursuant to the Draft Regulations is likely to take as long as 24 months.

The ALL Report also includes a comprehensive bibliography of technical resources that address many of the issues raised in comments to DRBC regarding shale gas development in the Basin.

Pro-drilling groups critical of natural gas drilling moratorium

By Steve McConnell (Staff Writer)
Published: September 10, 2010

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.

The pro-drilling groups, including landowners’ alliances that have secured more than 100,000 acres in Wayne County for gas development and the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, also warned the commission not to develop stringent regulations that would exceed current state environmental regulations because it could deter companies from operating there.

“We want to get the debate started and put our position out,” said Peter Wynne, spokesman, Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance. “We expect there is going to be a degree of severity that exceeds” the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The commission, which has regulated water resources in the four-state area that drains into the Delaware River since 1961, including a large swath of eastern Pennsylvania, has been developing its own environmental regulations over the industry in light of an increased interest in drilling for natural gas in the watershed.

While Marcellus Shale drilling is accelerating throughout the state and regionally in Susquehanna and Bradford counties, there are no producing wells in out the 13,539-square-mile Delaware River Basin, though Wayne County has lured multimillion-dollar land-leasing investments from several natural gas companies since 2007. The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, encompassing 100,000 acres mostly north of Honesdale, finalized a land-lease agreement valued at a more than $100 million with New York City-based Hess Corp. and Houston-based Newfield Exploration Co. in late 2009.

Meanwhile, the commission enacted a drilling moratorium in May, in particular on production wells, but is allowing 10 exploratory wells to go forward in Wayne County while the regulations are developed.

The moratorium caused Newfield Exploration Co. and Hess Corp. to halt land-lease payments until the drilling ban is lifted. This could amount to the loss of $220 million in payments to leaseholders – not including royalties on producing natural gas wells – if Newfield and Hess Corp. decided to pull out of Wayne County, Mr. Wynne has said.

The pro-drilling groups’ 10-page letter, which was widely distributed to federal, state and local government officials Thursday and to the five-member commission board, urges the commission to consider the “unparalleled economic opportunities” gas drilling could yield while urging them to avoid the “infinite costs” associated with stiff environmental regulations. It also cites the poor state of the economy in Wayne County, a largely rural area with little to no economic growth in recent years, and how gas drilling could solve these “severe” challenges.

The letter also includes a series of recommendations the commission should take in its effort to regulate the industry. Efforts to reach Wayne County economic development officials were unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, the river basin commission believes it must protect the integrity of the Delaware River watershed – home to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System – while allowing natural gas drilling to occur.

Commission spokesman Clarke Rupert said the agency is trying to ensure that water used by an estimated 15 million people in four states is not negatively impacted by the industry, and criticism of their efforts to ensure that is unfair.

“Do you want to do it quickly … or to get it right? Our approach is to get it right,” Mr. Rupert said. Mr. Rupert said that he does not know what the makeup of the regulations will be, in part because once draft regulations are published it will undergo a series of public comment and public hearing periods that may tweak its final form.

The commission hopes to adopt final regulations by the end of this year, although that is subject to change.

Contact the writer:

View article here.

Copyright:  The Scranton Times

Shale drilling in Monroe, Pike on the horizon

Experts say area should prepare because drilling is not far off

Pocono Record Writer
August 20, 2010

SCRANTON — Drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale in Monroe and Pike counties? It’s not a question of if, but when.

That was the word from around the state Thursday at a forum at Marywood University, where experts said the region is rich in the valuable fossil fuel.

The bulk of the drilling now in northeast Pennsylvania is along the northern tier but could eventually extend into the Poconos.

Kathryn Zuberbuhler Klaber, president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said areas more conducive to the entire operation — including roads and pipeline — are the first areas that will be drilled. Once more companies get involved and more money is available, drilling could expand to other parts of the state that haven’t seen it yet.

“There’s only so much capital right now,” she said. “By its nature, you’re going to see that concentrated development.”

Currently, there are no Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Monroe or Pike counties. There is only one in Wayne County.

One roadblock from local drilling right now is the Delaware River Basin Commission, which stopped issuing drilling permits in 2009 until it can formulate a list of regulations gas companies must meet.

Clarke Rupert, spokesman for the DRBC, said the commission hopes to have those regulations finalized by the end of the summer and adopted by the end of the year, admitting that’s an “optimistic” schedule.

Marcellus Shale is found in most of Pennsylvania and parts of New York and West Virginia, about 5,000 to 8,000 feet below the surface. It had been considered too expensive to drill, but advances in technology and the rising cost of natural gas made it more attractive, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The new method of drilling — hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking” — uses large amounts of water mixed with sand and other items to fracture the shale and allow the gas to flow, according to the DEP. The water used is then treated before it is released back into the water system.

However, residents near some drilling operations have complained that local water supplies have been damaged. That’s led to some in the state to wonder if this is another coal industry, which ravaged the land of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area before it was gone.

U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-11, called the shale movement “our second chance” to correct the mistakes of the coal industry.

“Don’t exploit us, and we’ll work with you,” he said our message should be to gas companies. “Exploit us, and you don’t know the (bother) we can be to you.”

John Quigley, secretary of the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said about half of Pennsylvania’s state parks are in areas where Marcellus Shale is thought to be present, and about 700,000 of the 2.1 million acres of state forest land already is leased by gas companies.

He called for the state to stop issuing permits to gas companies until there is more known about the industry.

“Frankly, I think we need to take more than a timeout, we need to take a stop,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., encouraged local government leaders who may not have many avenues of protecting themselves to write and even pressure their state and federal representatives to make sure the Marcellus Shale industry is regulated.

“There is almost no area that can look and say, ‘That’s someone else’s problem,’” he said. “We all have to do what we can to make sure this is done the right way.”

View article here.

Copyright:  Pocono Record

Hess could be first to successfully tap Marcellus Shale in Wayne County

By Steve McConnell (Staff Writer)
Published: August 16, 2010

Although a natural gas drilling ban is in effect for much of Wayne County, one company is lining up permits for what may become the county’s first producing wells – in a small area just a hop across the Delaware River watershed boundary.

Hess Corp. has natural gas development permits either pending or recently approved for at least six hydraulically fractured Marcellus Shale wells along the county’s far northwestern border, according to state Department of Environmental Protection and Susquehanna River Basin Commission records.

Nearly all of the county lies within the Delaware River watershed, a vast 13,539-square-mile area that drains into the Delaware River. But this sliver in its far northern reaches is in the Susquehanna River watershed. There, the presiding Susquehanna River Basin Commission has granted hundreds of water-use permits to the burgeoning industry centered regionally in Susquehanna and Bradford counties.

Hess, which has leased at least 100,000 acres in northern Wayne County in a joint-development partnership with Newfield Exploration Co., had received regulatory approval from both the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and DEP for three Marcellus Shale wells in the Susquehanna watershed as of Saturday, according to a record review.

The permits were issued in late June and July. The pending and approved wells are concentrated in an area that encompasses Scott and Preston townships and Starrucca. The company will be “drilling and hydraulically stimulating one or more horizontal natural gas wells,” according to each permit application.

“An accounting of how (the companies) are going to use the water” is made before the commission decides to issue a permit, Susquehanna commission spokeswoman Susan Obleski said.

Efforts to reach officials with the New York City-based Hess Corp. were unsuccessful.

Drilling in Wayne County’s portion of the Delaware River watershed is a different story.

The Delaware River Basin Commission recently enacted a moratorium on the drilling of producing natural gas wells, which may be in effect for at least six months to a year. Meanwhile, Wayne County does not have a single producing well, nor has it seen any wells hydraulically fractured.

The only natural gas company that has attempted to hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale natural gas well in Wayne County, Lafayette, La.-based Stone Energy Corp., was issued a stop-work order in the summer of 2008 for its partially completed well in Clinton Twp. because it lacked a permit from the Delaware River Basin commission.

The Delaware River commission, a federal-state environmental regulatory agency charged with protecting the environmental integrity of the watershed, has stringent jurisdiction over the watershed and over natural gas drilling operations there.

It has placed a blanket moratorium on natural gas drilling until it develops its own industry regulations which are expected to exceed some DEP enforced laws.

“(Delaware) River Basin Commission consideration of natural gas production projects will occur after new … regulations are adopted,” said spokesman Clarke Rupert.

Mr. Rupert said draft regulations are expected to be published by the end of the summer. They will be followed by a series of public meetings and comment periods prior to final approval by commission vote.

“I expect those draft regulations will include provisions relating to the accounting of water movement since we would want to know the source of water to be used to support natural gas development and extraction activities in the basin,” Mr. Rupert said.

Meanwhile, the Delaware River commission is allowing 10 natural gas exploratory wells to go forward in Wayne County. They will not be hydraulically fractured, produce gas, or require much water. Hess Corp. and Newfield Exploration Co. received approvals for these wells from DEP prior to the June 14 moratorium.

Contact the writer:

View article here.

Copyright:  The Scranton Times

Floods, Famines, Earthquakes and the DRBC

Landowners, communities challenge Delaware River Basin Commission to explain rationale, authority behind denying opportunity of the Marcellus to Northeast PA

Translated literally from French it means “superior force,” but translated practically into American law, the term force majeure is a clause used by parties that encounter a situation so severe that it’s actually designated as an “Act of God” by the courts. Floods, famines, earthquakes, volcanoes – these are the kinds of events that trigger the rare invocation of the clause, allowing all parties involved in a contract to shield themselves of obligation in light of the extraordinary and unforeseen events that transpired after it was signed.

Actually, there’s one other event that has historically fallen under the rubric of force majeure: acts of war. Unfortunately, in the case of the West Trenton, N.J.-based Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), that’s precisely the action that was taken against landowners in eastern Pennsylvania last month, with the Commission instituting a de-facto, back-door moratorium on all activities within its sprawling jurisdiction even tangentially related to the development of clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

The upshot? This description comes from the June 30 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Two natural gas drilling companies have suspended most of their leases to develop Marcellus Shale wells in northeastern Pennsylvania after the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision to ban drilling in the river’s watershed. … declar[ing] a force majeurea situation beyond their control – because of the DRBC’s June 14 decision to halt all drilling until it has adopted comprehensive regulations governing Marcellus Shale activity.

Of course, with potentially thousands of jobs at stake in the area – and millions of dollars in much-needed payments to landowners and state and local governments – folks who actually live and work in the Northeast PA counties affected by the DRBC promulgation aren’t exactly taking the decision lying down.

Case in point: Later today, the DRBC will hold a regularly scheduled hearing on a whole slate of issues related to regional water use and management, including a draft water withdrawal request from an energy operator in the area. Among the folks expected to attend? A busload of landowners from the Northern Wayne Property Owners Association (NWPOA), and from the information we’ve been able to glean from its website, the group is expecting a significant showing among residents in the area concerned by the implications of DRBC’s historic overreach on natural gas. To wit:

The Bus for the DRBC meeting in Trenton NJ on WED, July 14th 2010 will leave at 9:00 am from the middle school parking lot.  That is the parking lot up behind the Honesdale High School and Middle School up on Terrace Street. … Please try to send a representative from your family if you can’t make it yourself. … We must speak up and encourage DRBC to get meaningful prudent regulations in place instead of all these stall tacticswhich get us nowhere.

Back in June, the Marcellus Shale Coalition released an issue alert on the DRBC moratorium decision, wondering aloud if the modern-day DRBC would have let George Washington cross the Delaware without first initiating a years-long review procedure aimed at stalling the process and ultimately executing a pocket-veto of the entire enterprise. Needless to say, the denial of energy and mineral rights to landowners across the border in Pennsylvania wasn’t exactly what the creators of DRBC had in mind 50 years ago when the commission was created.

Earlier this week, the MSC expanded on its previously stated objections to the DRBC moratorium in a letter sent to Commission director Carol Collier. You see, in extending its initial ban to include a moratorium on doing even the most basic things to test the future viability of natural gas wells in the affected counties, the Commission cited “the risk to water resources” as the reason for pulling the plug on exploratory work in the area. But as MSC president and executive director Kathryn Klaber makes plain in her letter to DRBC this week, no water would be put at risk under such an approach – and very little of it will need to be withdrawn from surface areas under DRBC jurisdiction:

Exploratory wells are used to assess the scope of a resource available for potential recovery. These wells are limited in number and do not have a substantial effect on the water resources of the Basin – the drilling of these wells does not use a high volume of water, does not generate a significant volume of wastewater, and is subject to stringent state standards applicable to well drilling and surface disturbance. In no comparable circumstance has the Commission sought to assert its review and approval jurisdiction.

Of course, if DRBC’s review and approval of permits in this context is considered appropriate, then “it likewise would be appropriate for the development of a multitude of projects over which the Commission, appropriately, has not sought to assert jurisdiction, such as malls, hotels, restaurants, and residential subdivisions,” according to the letter from MSC.

So why is natural gas so different? That question, unfortunately, is not one that DRBC has answered with any degree of specificity just yet –content instead to simply assert its primacy over the matter and issue sweeping, multi-state declarations with significant implications for the clean-energy future of Pennsylvania and the economic security of those who live here. Hopefully, with the help of groups like NWPOA, the Commission will soon find itself in a position to better understand that the actions it makes from West Trenton, N.J. have real-world consequences for residents in the Commonwealth.


Would The Present-Day DRBC Have Let Washington Cross the Delaware?

NJ-based Delaware River Basin Commission places unnecessary moratorium on Marcellus production, denying economic benefits, jobs to Pennsylvanians

It’s hard to imagine President Kennedy had the denial of jobs and revenue for residents of Pennsylvania in mind when he signed a bill in 1961 creating the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). But nearly a half-century later, the DRBC of today bears little resemblance to the compact established almost five decades ago — one that was put in place to promote economic growth by providing a mechanism for equitable distribution of the Delaware’s waters.

Today, unlike similarly structured, intergovernmental bodies – such as the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) – the DRBC is working aggressively to shut down any and all natural gas exploration that may take place, now or in the future, in the eastern portion of the Marcellus Shale.

This week, following the decision last month to ban new shale permits in the area, the West Trenton, N.J.-based organization took additional steps to bring responsible Marcellus Shale natural gas production to a standstill by putting forth a de facto moratorium. How’d it do that? Easy: DRBC simply gave itself the authority to unilaterally freeze exploratory Marcellus production wells in the basin altogether.

Well aware of exactly what’s at stake, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) wasn’t bashful in telling the Philadelphia Inquirer what it thought of the DRBC decision:

Kathryn Klaber, executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition…said extending the temporary ban on new permits to include exploratory wells only added “layers of unnecessary red tape” without any environmental benefit.

“The DRBC’s decision to deny Americans the benefits of clean-burning, job-creating natural gas from the Marcellus Shale is misguided and unfortunate,” she said. New technologies, she added, are reducing the overall water usage and land disturbance.

“At the same time, this production is creating tens of thousands of jobs and delivering affordable, clean-burning energy to struggling families and small businesses. Our hope is that the DRBC will recognize this fact and act accordingly, putting commonsense solutions and policies ahead of agendas,” she said.

Safely producing clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania remainsa powerful job creation engine. In fact, according to a recently updated Penn State University economic impact study, this tightly regulated production is projected to create nearly 212,000 jobs over the next decade.

Many in Pennsylvania understand how important this opportunity is for the Commonwealth, especially in regions of the state facing high unemployment and ongoing economic struggles. And like the MSC, supporters of environmentally safe natural gas production understand how critical it is to get this right, balancing commonsense environmental safeguards with the economic opportunities before us.

Here’s what one northeastern Pennsylvania natural gas advocate told the Associated Pressabout safely developing these abundant, domestic and clean-burning resources near the Delaware River basin:

Energy companies have leased thousands of acres of land in Pennsylvania’s unspoiled northeastern tip, hoping to tap vast stores of gas in a sprawling rock formation — the Marcellus Shale — that some experts believe could become the nation’s most productive gas field.

Plenty of folks like Matoushek are eager for the gas, and the royalty checks, to start flowing — including farmers who see Marcellus money as a way to keep their struggling operations afloat.

“It’s a depressed area,” Matoushek said. “This is going to mean new jobs, real jobs, not government jobs.”

Adding new and unnecessary layers of burdensome regulations and red tape – aimed at halting job-creating Marcellus Shale natural gas production – will not help deliver more affordable supplies of homegrown energy. The DRBC’s shale gas moratorium will not help drive down our dependence on unstable regions of the world to keep our economy fueled, nor will it help create jobs at a time when they’re most needed. Quite the opposite, in fact.


Debate rages over Delaware River watershed

Sporting groups, conservationists and anti-drilling neighbors protest the large-scale gas exploration.

MICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press Writer

PLEASANT MOUNT, Pa. — A few hundred yards from Louis Matoushek’s farmhouse is a well that could soon produce not only natural gas, but a drilling boom in the wild and scenic Delaware River watershed.

Energy companies have leased thousands of acres of land in Pennsylvania’s unspoiled northeastern tip, hoping to tap vast stores of gas in a sprawling rock formation — the Marcellus Shale — that some experts believe could become the nation’s most productive gas field.

Plenty of folks like Matoushek are eager for the gas, and the royalty checks, to start flowing — including farmers who see Marcellus money as a way to keep their struggling operations afloat.

“It’s a depressed area,” Matoushek said. “This is going to mean new jobs, real jobs, not government jobs.”

Standing in the way is a loose coalition of sporting groups, conservationists and anti-drilling neighbors. They contend that large-scale gas exploration so close to crucial waterways will threaten drinking water, ruin a renowned wild trout fishery, wreck property values, and transform a rural area popular with tourists into an industrial zone with constant noise and truck traffic.

Both sides are furiously lobbying the Delaware River Basin Commission, the powerful federal-interstate compact agency that monitors water supplies for 15 million people, including half the population of New York City. The commission has jurisdiction because the drilling process will require withdrawing huge amounts of water from the watershed’s streams and rivers and because of the potential for groundwater pollution.

The well on Matoushek’s 200-acre spread in the northern Pocono Mountains in Wayne County is up first. The commission is reviewing an application by Stone Energy Corp. of Lafayette, La., to extract gas from the well — the first of what could be thousands of applications by energy companies to sink wells in an area roughly the size of Connecticut.

Stone Energy’s application has already generated more than 1,700 written comments to the DRBC. The company, which paid a $70,000 penalty for drilling the Matoushek well without DRBC approval in 2008, has already received a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Eager gas companies have leased more than 300 square miles of watershed land, conservation officials estimate.

“This is certainly just the start. There’s a lot of acreage out there, and a lot of people interested in leasing their land,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the anti-drilling Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation 6,000 to 8,000 feet beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, including about 36 percent of the Delaware River basin. New drilling techniques now allow affordable access to supplies in the Marcellus and other shales in the U.S. that once were too expensive to tap.

Energy companies combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a technique that injects vast amounts of water, along with sand and chemicals, underground to break up the shale and release the gas.

While gas companies refuse to identify the chemicals they use — claiming that is proprietary information — critics cite contamination problems in other natural gas drilling fields. They worry that unregulated fracking can taint drinking water, deplete aquifers and produce briny wastewater that can kill fish. In Dimock, Pa., about 40 miles west of the Matoushek well but outside the Delaware basin, state environmental regulators say that cracked casings on fracked wells have tainted residential water supplies with methane gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that it will study the impact of fracking on the environment and human health. The EPA said in 2004 there was no evidence that fracking threatens drinking water quality, but critics, including a veteran engineer in the Denver regional EPA office, argued that report’s methodology was flawed.

The industry contends environmental concerns are overblown. It says the drilling techniques are safe and that there has never been a proven case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking — in part because fracking occurs far below the water table. Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from federal oversight in 2005.

Dozens of people told the DRBC at a recent public hearing why they oppose the watershed drilling. A few supporters called it an economic boon and a property-rights issue.

Richard Kreznar, who owns property in the Pennsylvania riverfront community of Damascus, said gas drilling primarily benefits large landowners and exploration companies.

“After the Delaware River and the stream next to my house are messed up, what compensation will I get? Who will put it back together again?” he asked DRBC staff.

Lee Hartman, the Delaware River chairman for Trout Unlimited, worries that large water withdrawals required for fracking will create low stream flows in the Delaware’s tributaries, damaging fish habitat. For the Matoushek well, Stone Energy wants to take 700,000 gallons a day from the Lackawaxen River’s narrow west branch.

Hartman and others say the DRBC should first study the cumulative environmental impacts of drilling in the Delaware watershed, and pass drilling regulations, before it allows any gas extraction to take place. The agency has asked for $250,000 in federal funds for a study, but commissioners have not said whether they will wait before voting on Matoushek’s well.

Opponents say they will sue if Stone Energy’s application is approved.

Downstream communities that rely on the Delaware for drinking water are worried about the coming gas boom. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes any drilling in the watershed, while the Philadelphia City Council has asked the basin commission for an environmental study.

New York state regulators have put a moratorium on drilling in the Marcellus region, saying they won’t approve permits until they are finished drafting new regulations.

Back in northeastern Pennsylvania, Matoushek, 68, a semiretired farmer who signed a lease with Stone Energy three years ago, said he is counting on royalty checks from gas production to help fund his golden years and secure the land for future generations of his family. As far he’s concerned, the benefits far outweigh any theoretical harm.

Copyright: Times Leader