Sunday, January 9, 2011

Still Time to Comment on DRBC Proposed Drilling Rules

The Delaware River originates near Hancock, NY and travels 330 miles through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware before spilling into the Delaware Bay. The river basin drains 13,539 square-miles of watershed, some of it providing the drinking water for millions of people in New York City and along the east coast.

Like the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) regulates water withdrawals from the Delaware River and its tributaries. And just like its sister-commission, DRBC is made up of state governors and a federal representative from the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

At the beginning of last month DRBC released draft regulations that, they say, are intended to protect minimum stream flows, provide a record of water transfers, and ensure that downstream water resources are not adversely affected.

The new rules also regulate how drilling waste fluids and other wastewater may be reused in gas development projects. Proposed regulations will permit the use of flowback and production fluids (brine), mine drainage wasters and treated wastewater for use in drilling gas wells. But, says DRBC, these “recycled” fluids will be monitored closely, using a system of manifests for each load shipped.

A quick review of DRBC’s proposed rules indicate they will restrict drilling in flood hazard areas, on steep slopes and in areas deemed critical habitats for threatened and endangered species. They will establish minimum setbacks from rivers, wetlands and lakes as well as domestic water supplies and homes – and they call for pre-and post-drilling monitoring of surface and groundwater near well pads.

Before trucking drilling waste fluids to a public wastewater treatment facility, drillers will have to demonstrate that acceptance of their waste will not interfere with the facility’s operation. They must also show that effluent discharged from these facilities will not exceed Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

Drillers will have to pay to play, too. Under the proposed rules, drillers in the Delaware River Basin will need to post a $125,000 bond for each well to cover the costs of plugging, abandonment and restoration and the remediation of any pollution from gas development activities. That’s a big drop from the $5 million initially proposed, but still a lot higher than the $2500 Pennsylvania drillers are required to post for a single well.

Good as they sound, these regs are a bit premature. Why didn’t DRBC wait until they complete their study on the cumulative impacts of drilling in the basin before offering a regulatory pathway to drilling permits? Why not wait for NY Department of Environmental Conservation to complete their review of high volume horizontal fracking before releasing the regs?

The public has until March 16, 2011 to comment on the proposed rules, and DRBC has promised to schedule three public hearings (dates still to be announced). Comments may be submitted using a web-based form on the DRBC web site here.

Mail written comments to Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360. DRBC will also accept written comments at the public hearings.

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