July 7, 2009, Times Herald Record: Gas drilling co. begins application: Flags raised over water withdrawal

Gas drilling co. begins application

Flags raised over water withdrawal


A natural-gas drilling rig works on a pad in Dimock, Pa., in July 2008. Drilling could also be coming to Sullivan County.Times Herald-Record/TOM BUSHE

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It's the opening salvo for gas drilling in one of the nation's most pristine — and protected — regions:

The nation's largest natural-gas corporation, Chesapeake, has applied to withdraw 1 million gallons of water per day from the Delaware River in nearby Wayne County, Pa.

The application, set for a public hearing July 15 before the Delaware River Basin Commission, is the first in the environmentally sensitive area regulated by the federally mandated interstate commission.

"We have a history of approving water withdrawals, but this is the initial one for natural gas," says DRBC spokeswoman Kate O'Hara.

The request for water to drill the gas-rich Marcellus shale has raised concerns, and some alarm, in an area rich in wildlife, lush land and small communities. Although the water would be withdrawn from the West Branch of the Delaware in Buckingham Township, Pa., it would also be used for wells in New York.

The Upper Delaware Council, based on the Delaware in Narrowsburg, has long tried to balance conservation and development in its management of the upper river corridor. While the UDC has yet to take sides on gas drilling, it's "definitely a concern," says Executive Director Bill Douglass.

"A little bit of water we can live with," he says, "but a lot over time "¦"

The trucks to cart the water to wells are another worry.

"Heavy industry should not be on the river corridor," says the UDC's senior resource specialist, Dave Soete.

The prominent environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper is dead set against the withdrawal.

"We don't want to see any at this point because there are too many unanswered questions," says its executive director, Ramsay Adams. Those questions — about pollution and environmental destruction — are why the Department of Environmental Conservation has postponed issuing new regulations for gas drilling.

Chesapeake says it "typically operates above" local environmental regulations.

"As the play develops, Chesapeake will be moving from utilizing solely trucks to transport the fresh water "¦ by laying fresh water pipelines to reduce any impact truck traffic may have on a community," says its corporate development manager, Maribeth Anderson.

But even if this water withdrawal is approved, gas companies must clear other regulatory steps before they can drill — including those yet-to-be-

released DEC standards.

They include approval of the controversial — some say polluting — "fracking" process, which uses chemicals to extract gas from the shale.

"Our position is drilling will have an effect on (the river basin)," says DRBC spokeswoman O'Hara. "So they would have to go through all the steps to prove they're nonpolluting."

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