Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hydro-fracturing criticized at regional gas meeting

Public concerned about quality of water

By Jason Whong, Staff Writer

Elmira Star Gazette, August 6, 2009

Proposed changes to rules governing the withdrawal of water to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale drew criticism from people living in the Susquehanna River watershed Wednesday night.

The residents voiced opposition to the practice of hydro-fracturing at a meeting at the Holiday Inn - Riverview in Elmira.

But officials from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) said the changes would not alter the rules on removing water for hydro-fracturing.

The changes proposed by the SRBC would amend the "approval by rule" process to allow gas drillers to use already approved water sources.

Michael Brownell, chief of the commission's Water Resource Management Division, said the changes would streamline the approval process.

The commission allows those who cannot attend a meeting to send in comments.

Many of those received before the meeting focused on hydro-fracturing, or fracking for short.

Hydro-fracturing is a process in which crews drilling for natural gas use water and other materials. When the combination is blasted into the ground under high pressure, it fractures bedrock and boosts the flow of gas.

Brownell said the proposed rule changes would not apply to the disposal of water used in the process.

"The commission does not regulate water quality as it relates to the disposal of frack fluid," he said.

"We rely on member jurisdictions to regulate that activity, and we require a certification ... that the water was disposed of in accordance with state and federal rules."

Kenneth P. Lynch, head of Region 7 of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and an alternate commissioner representing the state on the commission, said the rule change would not affect the environmental review required of gas drilling projects in the state.

He said DEC plans to release a draft environmental impact statement on fracking in September.

Most of those attending the meeting spoke against fracking, though one area resident and an industry representative said they favor the changes.

Michael Narcavage, speaking for Chesapeake Appalachia LLC and the Marcellus Shale Committee, said the rule changes would "allow for increased flexibility to use approved sources and share water among operators."

"We are talking about this commission allowing Chesapeake to, willy-nilly, with other energy corporations, to trade water from one source to another, to bring it into pristine areas," said Roy Lackner of Binghamton, who manages tree farms in Broome County and Wayne County, Pa.

"This is an unacceptable risk to our water supplies."

John Harney of Milan said the change in regulations would make it too easy for gas companies to use the water for fracking.

"You should be changing the rules to make it more difficult instead of making it easier," Harney said.

"They have enough ease now. You need to protect the people."



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