updated January 14 (below)
On Tuesday, January 12, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) ordered Novus Operating LLC, a Texas-based natural gas drilling company, to halt all water-related activities at two Marcellus drilling sites in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. Novus is a relatively small company out of Royse City, Texas - and has applied for only three of the 2000 or so Marcellus shale permits that PA DEP approved last year.
The wells receiving the stop work order are located in
Paul Swartz, executive director for SRBC told the press that "the Commission considers these violations by Novus to be intentional, and we will respond accordingly. Commission staff had clearly informed company officials of the need for prior approval before undertaking the projects.”
Swartz added, “While the Commission’s order also prohibits withdrawals or use of water, we did not find any water resource impacts at these sites since the company had not gotten to the point of withdrawing, transporting or using any water.” At least not yet.
According to SRBC, Novus has 30 days to submit an application to the Commission for water withdrawal and consumptive use, as well as the construction activities it has already completed. But for now the spigot has been turned off. Novus is prohibited from any further water-related actions until SRBC reviews and acts on the application. And the Commission may decide to impose civil penalties against Novus for its "willful violations".
The thing Susan Obleski can't figure out is why Novus didn't apply for the needed permits. "They already have several approvals," she said. "Furthermore SRBC had talked to them ahead of time, but they still went ahead and began water-related constructions."
Obleski explained that Novus, like any company, must tell SRBC where they are getting the water for each well they drill, and must obtain approvals before they even begin work on excavating impoundments or putting in pipes to pump water.
The next step is figuring out what fine SRBC will levy. Past fines have ranged from $75,000 to $450,000. "The fact that they didn't use any water yet - didn't impact a water resource - will help them in this regard," Obleski said. "But the fact that they were notified and went ahead without approvals will certainly count against them."
To learn more about how the SRBC regulates natural gas well development projects, go to www.srbc.net.