Posts Tagged ‘Delaware’

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.

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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

Gas drilling could aid clean water

Industry may pay to upgrade plants that handle waste water from process.

By Rory
Staff Writer

The state is contending with a multibillion-dollar water-treatment problem, and the growing gas-drilling industry might be part of the solution.

A roughly $7.2 billion deficit exists for repairing or upgrading waste-water treatment facilities in the state, according to a task force created by Gov. Ed Rendell to solve water-infrastructure issues. Gas companies might help defray that cost as more wells are drilled because the companies will need treatment facilities for waste water.

The process to drill gas and oil wells, called hydraulic fracturing or simply “fracing,” involves shooting sand and water down a well to fracture the rock containing the oil or gas.

The contaminated water is separated out and can be stored and reused, but must eventually be treated. The state Department of Environmental Protection categorizes it as industrial waste, agency spokesman Mark Carmon said.

In western Pennsylvania, where many shallow wells exist, privately operated treatment facilities handle such waste, but none has so far in the northeast area, said Stephen Rhoads, president of the Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Association.

Exploring the Marcellus Shale, which runs from upstate New York into Virginia, including the northern edge of Luzerne County, generally requires far more water than shallow wells because the wells can be 8,000 feet deep

Companies working in this region have reused the water in multiple wells and then shipped it to the facilities out west, Rhoads said, but “obviously, moving it across the state with the fuel prices the way they are, is not economically” viable. The water can also be injected deep into the ground, but no one has sought such a permit in this region, Carmon said.

That leaves sending the water to public facilities, but since many of them are already near or at capacity, the industry is considering paying to upgrade plants. About 30 of the largest regional treatment facilities have been notified by DEP that they might be approached with the idea and that they’d first need to modify their liquid discharge permits and receive approval from the agency, Carmon said.

The idea hasn’t escaped the gas companies.

“We’ve talked about that in various areas throughout the state,” said Rodney Waller, of Range Resources Corp. “We’re investigating that, but … there’s nothing on the horizon.”

Upcoming events

• 10:30 a.m. today the state Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Susquehanna and Delaware river basin commissions, and county conservation districts are meeting in Harrisburg with industry members to discuss environmental regulations.

• 7 p.m. June 23 the Penn State Cooperative Extension is holding a gas-lease workshop for landowners at the Lake-Lehman High School.

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

Copyright: Times Leader