By Frank Rizzo
NARROWSBURG Last Thursday, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) finally had its official say on the issue of gas drilling.
The occasion was a vote to approve a letter in response to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) proposed natural gas development regulations, which were released on Dec. 9. The comment period on the draft regulations has been extended to April 15.
According to the DRBC, “The purpose of the proposed regulations is to protect the water resources of the Delaware River Basin during the construction and operation of natural gas development projects. The draft regulations establish requirements to prevent, reduce, or mitigate depletion and degradation of surface and groundwater resources and to promote sound practices of watershed management.”
The key part of the UDC letter states, “The 1986 River Management Plan does have specific references to the words ‘oil,’ ‘gas,’ and ‘pipeline,’ but we do not believe that it ever envisioned horizontal drilling or high-volume slick water hydraulic fracturing.”
The UDC was created in 1988 to coordinate and implement the Management Plan of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. The UDC works closely with the National Park Service to help manage the Plan.
Later on, the seven-page letter adds, “Because of the size and scope of today’s natural gas development we believe that it should be considered as ‘Heavy Industrial Uses’ which would be incompatible anywhere in the river corridor. As such, we request that all service activities of natural gas development be prohibited in the river corridor. Horizontal drilling on that should be considered only if it can be done safely. We request that any well pads be sited as far away as possible from the river corridor boundary to still be able to horizontally drill beneath the river corridor.”
The official letter was approved with only members Fred Peckham, of the Town of Hancock, and Harold Roeder of the Town of Delaware voting no.
Peckham had wanted to delete the paragraph on “Heavy Industrial Uses,” and sparked a sometime heated debate with Town of Highland Supervisor and member Andy Boyar.
Peckham made mention of “landowner rights We forget about that little piece all the time.”
“I’m more concerned about the potential degradation of everyone’s rights,” Boyar countered.
Roeder said he was fully supportive of the UDC’s environmental concerns, but felt “We have strayed from the original intent of the UDC and the River Management Plan.
“I’m concerned that we have become just an environmental group,” Roeder said. “I’m not happy that the letter did not address private property rights and economic development.”
Noting that the UDC came into being as a private-public partnership to protect people’s property from government intrusion, Roeder expressed disappointment that the letter, “Did not protect all people in the river corridor … and help promote the economy.”
In the end, the letter was accepted with only minor changes. It had been drafted and debated “line-by-line” as the UDC’s Project Review Committee studied the 83-page DRBC draft regulations.
On February 10 the UDC arranged for two representatives of the DRBC a non-voting member of the Council to attend a workshop where members could ask questions about the regulations.
The final UDC letter added a sentence that had been taken out in a previous draft: “We are also worried about their ability to treat radioactive materials.”
The rest of the paragraph, which precedes the sentence, reads: “We are concerned that there will be an inadequate number of treatment plants to meet the demand, and that much of the tracking and reporting will be left up to the natural gas industry.”
The UDC asks for a full review of the environmental impact of natural gas extraction and expresses concern over the ability of the DRBC to oversee drilling activities given its current staffing and federal budget uncertainties.
Continuing its list of concerns, the letter states: “We are particularly concerned about potential cumulative impacts of all development activities associated with natural gas extraction, and the potential industrialization of the watershed, as thousands of natural gas wells could be proposed in the future. There does not appear to be any master plan for all the necessary infrastructure, which could have a profound effect on the environment. We believe it is not a question of if, but when, detectable changes will occur to the special protection waters.”
The letter may be viewed in its entirety at: http://www.