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Updated: Delaware River Basin Commission Issues Draft Gas Drilling Regulation

Delaware River Basin Commission Executive Director Carol R. Collier this week issued draft natural gas development regulations for public comment.  

            A moratorium on issuing new approvals for Marcellus Shale Drilling operations has been in place since May in the Delaware River Basin and will remain in effect until these regulations are finalized.
            The purpose of the proposed regulations is to protect the water resources of the Delaware River Basin during the construction and operation of natural gas development projects. The draft regulations establish requirements to prevent, reduce, or mitigate depletion and degradation of surface and groundwater resources and to promote sound practices of watershed management.
            According to a fact sheet on the proposal, the new rules would--
 -- Development Plan: Requires the development of a Natural Gas Development Plan for any company holding 3,200 acres or more in Marcellus Shale leases or has the intent to construct more than 5 natural gas well pads.
            The NGDP requirement is designed to foster protection of water resources through broad scale lease area planning rather than limited site-by-site decision making, thereby encouraging development only in areas most suitable for it and minimizing impact to sensitive water resource features.  These plans identify geographic and hydrological constraints to natural gas development and identify measures to minimize those impacts. 
-- Minimum Setbacks/Monitoring/Tracking: The draft rule sets minimum setbacks from water bodies, wetlands, surface water supply intakes and water supply reservoirs at distances specified in the regulations, and from occupied homes, public buildings, public roads, public water supply wells, and domestic water supply wells as provided by regulations of the state in which the well pad is located.
            A requirement for pre- and post-project monitoring of surface and groundwater near well pads involving high volume hydraulically fractured wells, including a characterization of the hydrology, water chemistry and biological resources of surface waters and the water chemistry of ground waters. 
            Requires the monitoring, tracking, and reporting of water usage and wastewater treatment and disposal.  All wastewaters must be transported to approved treatment and disposal facilities.
-- Well Construction, Operation: The Commission is relying on state oil and gas well regulatory programs to cover the construction and operation of wells.  However, the Commission is separately requiring that all non-domestic wastewater be transferred to appropriate tanks for temporary storage on the well pad site or to a centralized wastewater storage facility and that fluids and drill cuttings from horizontal wellbores in the target formation be beneficially reused or disposed of at an appropriate waste facility.
            In addition, the Commission is proposing to require any wastewater plant accepting wastewater produced at well sites to obtain approval from the Commission.
-- Expedited Approvals: The proposal includes an expedited permit review under an Approval By Rule process for certain projects including: (a) bulk water sales for uses related to natural gas by holders of valid Commission approvals that can provide water within their current allocations; (b) well pad projects that conform to a Commission-approved Natural Gas Development Plan; (c) well pad projects that conform to specified restrictions and setback requirements; and (d) water supply projects involving the reuse of recovered flowback and production fluids as make-up water for hydraulically fracturing natural gas wells.  
            In addition, projects that do not involve fracturing or that consist of well pads constructed exclusively for the development and operation of exploratory natural gas wells and that are expected to use no more than 80,000 gallons or equivalent of hydraulic fracturing fluids (“low volume hydraulically fractured wells”) are eligible for an ABR if they comply with applicable state programs and Commission setbacks and requirements.
-- Bonding: The Commission is proposing a $125,000 bond for each gas well drilled to provide financial assurance for the plugging, abandonment and restoration of natural gas wells and remediation of any pollution from gas well development activities.
            A copy of the proposal is available online.
            "The DRBC's action represents a good first step that is necessary to move this process forward," said DEP Secretary John nHanger. "It's important to note that these are proposed rules that are now open for public comment. It's time for the public to have their say on these matters.
            "Changes may still be made before we reach a final product that is clear and enforceable. Once the comments have been addressed and changes made, the rules will be brought back to the commission for a full vote."
            Secretary Hanger added that, once finalized, DRBC's rule will complement the many measures DEP has implemented to strengthen oversight of natural gas development in Pennsylvania. 
            Engineering professor and oil and gas industry veteran Michael J. Economides spoke out against new natural gas regulations announced by the Delaware River Basin Commission. The hydraulic fracturing rules come despite recent reports and evidence demonstrating the safety of natural gas drilling.
            "Hydraulic fracturing is an absolutely necessary process for removing natural gas from the ground and cultivating this very attractive and environmentally friendly form of energy," said Dr. Economides. "Natural gas exploration must be guided by best practices set forth by engineers, not a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation. These rules usurp local control, and that is in no one's best interest.
            "About 100,000 wells utilize the hydraulic fracturing process worldwide each year. Fracking is a well-established natural gas well completion process, and the best practices used by the industry have been validated time and time again for six decades. The industry has an impeccable safety record in this field."
            As recently as November 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a report showing that there have been no documented incidents of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
           Updated: New York City Reaction
            The following statement was issued by New York City Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway on the decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission to issue draft regulations covering Marcellus Shale gas drilling in the watershed--
            "We are disappointed that the Delaware River Basin Commission has decided to issue draft regulations without first conducting a study of the potential impacts of hydrofracking in a watershed that supplies drinking water for 15 million people. 
            "While there will be opportunity to comment on the draft, and engage in additional analysis during the next 90 days, pressure will undoubtedly mount to make the draft regulations final as soon as possible; and that pressure is not conducive to making a considered decision about hydrofracking in the Delaware River Basin based only on the best data and science about the potential impacts of hydrofracking on water quality and public health.
            "Any decisions about drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale must be based on detailed scientific and technical reviews. DEP's own study determined that based on the best available science and the current state of technology, hydrofracking cannot safely be conducted in the New York City Watershed. Decisions about drilling within the shared Delaware River Basin should be made on the same strong analytical foundation.
            "The City of New York has invested more than $1.5 billion in watershed protection programs that support sustainable farming practices, environmentally sensitive economic development, and local economic opportunity. These investments protect water quality for the 15 million people who rely on the Delaware River watershed for clean drinking water. The Delaware River is a shared resource and changes in its watershed's environment affect us all. While we don't agree with the release of draft regulations without the benefit of a comprehensive study, we will continue to work with the Commission to ensure that the cumulative impacts are known before any final regulations are issued."
            The New York City DEP manages the city's water supply, providing more than 1 billion gallons of water each day to more than 9 million residents, including 8 million in New York City, and residents of Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties. New York City's water is delivered from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds that extend more than 125 miles from the City, and comprises 19 reservoirs, and three controlled lakes.
           Updated: New York Governor Issues Moratorium Order
            New York Gov. David Paterson Saturday issued an Executive Order establishing a temporary moratorium on Marcellus Shale drilling in that state while vetoing legislation containing a broader moratorium.  Click here for details.
            Submitting Comments
            Three public hearings will be scheduled during the 90-day comment period to receive oral testimony on the proposed rulemaking. Details will be released as soon as the dates and locations have been confirmed.
            Written comments will be accepted through the close of business March 16 by two methods only:  electronic submission using a web-based form available on the DRBC website (preferred method); or paper submission mailed or delivered to: Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360. 
            Please include the name, address, and affiliation (if any) of the commenter. Paper submissions also will be accepted at the three public hearings.
            Due to the expected volume, comments that are faxed, telephoned, or emailed to individual DRBC Commissioners and staff will not be accepted for the rulemaking record.
            All written comments submitted via the two methods described above that are received prior to the comment deadline, along with oral testimony presented at the hearings will become a part of the rulemaking record and be considered by the Commissioners prior to any action on the proposed regulations. Such action will be taken at a duly noticed public meeting of the Commission at a future date.
            The Commission thanks the National Park Service for allowing the use of its Planning, Environment and Public Comment online system to facilitate the electronic submission of written comments on this proposed rulemaking.
                                New Gas Drilling Rules Address Fracking Concerns
                                Delaware Basin Commission Releases Draft Gas Well Rules
                                DRBC Eases Proposed Natural Gas Drilling Curbs
                                DRBC Publishes Gas Drilling Regulations
                                NY Governor Asks DRBC To Delay Gas Drilling Rules


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