February 17 - As two Sullivan County law enforcement professionals watched quietly from the rear of the room, a subdued crowd listened intently to a presentation by Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) staff who traveled to Narrowsburg for an informational session requested by the Upper Delaware Council’s (UDC) Project Review Committee.
The special work session was scheduled to aid the UDC as it prepares written comments on the DRBC’s Draft Natural Gas Development Regulations.
The large public turnout prompted relocation of the meeting from UDC offices across the street to the Tusten Town Hall. The opportunity to ask questions was limited to council members and one expert, hydrogeologist Paul Rubin of HydroQuest, who spoke on behalf of the towns of Highland, Lumberland and Tusten.
DRBC water resources management branch manager William Muszynski delivered a presentation that will be posted to the DRBC website at www.state.nj.us/drbc . He was joined by DRBC geologist/hydrologist Eric Engle.
Muszynski laid out DRBC estimates used in developing the regs. “We’ve projected somewhere between 15,000 to 18,000 horizontal wells,” he said. “That doesn’t include vertical wells. If that’s correct, we’ll be looking at somewhere between 2,000 to 2,200 well pads, each one about five acres, with 10,000 to 12,000 total acres of well pad development, and that doesn’t include road or pipeline infrastructures. A football field is about an acre, so you’d be looking at about 10,000 to 12,000 Super Bowl football fields.”
Water needs are estimated at 5,000,000 gallons per horizontal well, based upon 5,000 feet of horizontal projection and translating to roughly 90 billion gallons of water over a 20- to 25-year period. Wastewater is projected at 1,000,000 gallons per well.
A key focus of the regs is the Natural Gas Development Plan, required for development of more than five well pads, or 3,200-acre lease areas. The purpose of such plans is to show how these areas will be developed as a whole, rather than well by well.
Questions and concerns
Next came questions from the council. Rubin asked if an environmental impact study will be considered. “The commissioners decided that we’re moving forward in the absence of that,” replied Muszynski. “If monies become available for it, we would take a look at it, but we’re not required to do an environmental impact study.”
Town of Highland representative Andrew Boyar said, “We’re talking about a wild and scenic river designation that was adopted by Congress, and we operate here pursuant to a River Management Plan (RMP). Was the RMP considered in the development of your regulations? Is a 500-foot setback from the river adequate to protect that federal designation?”
“We considered the designation when we did our regs,” replied Muszynski. “I’m sure that we’ll be getting comments from the federal agencies.”
Boyar continued, “It [the RMP] creates a river corridor and it says that industrial uses are prohibited.”
“Then that should be your comments back to us,” replied Muszynski.
On the topic of wastewater treatment, Muszynski confirmed that there are no existing qualified facilities within the river basin, so wastewater would have to be transported to an approved facility.
Rubin asked, “What assurances does the homeowner whose well becomes impacted have, that he won’t personally have to pay all the fees to test the water or fight the gas companies by himself?”
“Right now, there are no 100% assurances,” said Muszynski. “We would have to look at that location. If it’s detected that there’s something going on, the executive director would issue an order on what action must be taken. If they don’t take that action, we can try to take their instrument, or go to federal court. “
Town of Tusten representative Tony Ritter read from the Hazen and Sawyer report prepared for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection: “Widespread hydraulic fracking will permanently and irreversibly compromise the significant geological formation that presently constitutes parts of the subsurface system that isolates near-surface freshwater flow regimes from non-potable highly saline waters in deeper formations.” Ritter then asked for comment.
Engle responded, “There’s some calculated risk for any activity you take on. Other reports show very decent mathematical and scientific calculations that demonstrate to me that it’s highly unlikely.”
In response to concerns about long-term well safety, Muszynski replied, “That is a question that should be directed to the state agencies that we are relying on for the construction and integrity of these wells.”
The meeting concluded without incident inside the hall, but outside, citizen Jill Weiner returned to her car to find the rude message, “Go Away Fag” scrawled on the window above her “Frack No!” bumper sticker. [See Letters, page 6.]
The full session was recorded by FrackAlert and is available at www.frackalert.org/index.asp?page=52 .
As the UDC deliberates over its comments, the towns of Lumberland and Highland have already drafted theirs in advance of the March 16 deadline. Comments may be mailed, delivered during three hearings slated for February 22 and 24, or entered through an online submission process (PEPC) normally used by the National Park Service (NPS).
Comments will be sorted by topic. According to NPS representative Jacki Katzmire, it is not necessary to separate topics into different comments in order for each one to be counted. “The comment analysis function in PEPC works by setting up a series of codes that are used to group similar comments together,” Katzmire wrote in an email. “On the internal side of PEPC, someone pulls up the piece of electronic correspondence and creates one or more ‘comments’ from that correspondence. Each comment is then coded according to the particular concern. When the correspondence has been broken down into comments with codes, the coding system then groups together similar comments.”
Visit www.state.nj.us/drbc/notice_naturalgas-draftregs.htm  for detailed information about the comment process.