Sunday, May 9, 2010

Some Marcellus Shale drilling put on hold

By Sandy Bauers, Staff Writer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
May 6, 2010

Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania's easternmost counties has been put on hold for months, if not longer.

On Wednesday, the Delaware River Basin Commission voted unanimously to draft new regulations to govern natural gas projects and not to issue any permits until the new rules are in effect.

The decision means that even as activity escalates throughout the state - nearly 900 Marcellus permits have been issued this year - no production drilling can be done in the Delaware watershed.

Adopting new rules could take six months to a year, commission executive director Carol R. Collier said Thursday. ...

"I know there are many that want the gas-well drilling to move along quickly because of the economics and the issue of national security and providing clean fuel," Collier said. "But I really think we have to do it correctly and smartly. There's just too much at stake in the Delaware River basin."

Environmental groups cheered the decision, saying it was the "pause button" they have long sought statewide as the tally of explosions, spills, and pollution incidents mounts. So far this year, the state Department of Environmental Protection has initiated 116 enforcement actions against drillers. ...

John Hanger, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which also has regulatory authority over natural gas drilling, said the two agencies should work together so no conflicts arise and "to provide strong oversight of this industry."

The commission is an interstate agency, formed by a federal compact, that has legal authority over water quality and quantity in the basin. The governors of the four basin states - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware - plus a federal appointee are commissioners, but they often send representatives.

The New Jersey representative at Wednesday's meeting, Fred Sickels of the state DEP water-supply division, said that with all the activity, "the cumulative impacts could be significant if there aren't appropriate safeguards."

Pennsylvania's northeastern counties - where the shale region and the Delaware watershed overlap - have been deemed a high-stakes area.

The pressure to drill there could be even more intense than elsewhere. Geological maps indicate that corner of Pennsylvania is a sweet spot with huge quantities of natural gas.

More than 6,000 leases have been signed in Wayne County alone, said Brian W. Smith, chairman of the Wayne County supervisors.

No drilling other than test wells, which are still allowed, has been done in the watershed.

But environmental concerns are high. The Delaware River from Hancock, N.Y., south to Trenton is so clean that it is under stricter, "special protection waters" regulations. Also, the federal government has designated portions of the river wild and scenic areas worthy of enhanced protection.

And downstream - where the river's quality is the sum of everything that has occurred upstream - are Philadelphia's water intakes.

Proponents say natural gas drilling is adding millions of dollars to local economies and has environmental benefits because the fuel burns cleaner than coal.

Critics say the drilling process is fraught with hazards and the regulatory baseline is inadequate.

In March, Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the commission not to approve any applications in the Marcellus Shale until a full environmental impact assessment is done. ...

During a public-input period, the commission received more than 2,000 comments.

"We're looking at things that have happened to the west of us and what needs to be put in place to prevent that," Collier said. "We're learning a lot, and we want to do it right."


HOORAY FOR SENSIBLE PRIORITIES! Hopefully the DRBC's actions will serve as a bellwether for the rest of the state! Clearly the same perspectives were lacking when the DCNR chose to allow drilling under the Susquehanna River... for a "whopping" (just joking) $6.15 million! -Splashdown


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