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DRBC to find out: What’s in frack fluid?

UDC stance sought

By SANDY LONG

NARROWSBURG, NY — They came seeking a stance on regional natural gas drilling from the Upper Delaware Council. Instead, local citizens and members of the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability learned that the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a federal-interstate compact government agency, is in the process of formulating new regulations to increase protection of the basin’s water resources.

“The DRBC has regulatory responsibility for both water quantity and water quality,” said DRBC communications manager Clarke Rupert. “We’re not hanging our hat just on water quantity; we’re using a clause in our compact which allows us to look at proposed projects that may have a negative effect on water resources of the basin.”

Rupert went on to say that the DRBC has identified three areas of concern. “Water quantity; we want to know where the water’s coming from. What kinds of activities will be taking place on the site when the drilling takes place, and the recovered fracking water, which needs to be properly treated and disposed of,” explained Rupert. “There are only two permitted facilities in Pennsylvania that can handle such briny solutions. We’ll need to know what the plans are for treating this recovered frack water.”

The DRBC also wants to know what’s in the frack water and is creating an addendum to its current application to address this. “Regarding the fracking fluids and the chemicals that will be added, my understanding is that that will be one of the pieces of information included on that addendum to the application that they will need to disclose to us,” Rupert said.

Rupert stressed that the DRBC still has not received a single application for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale Formation. The agency has summarized its perspective and roles in relation to gas drilling on its website at www.drbc.net. Its standard application is available there and the new addendum will be included.

In addition, Rupert said the DRBC is sharing information and coordinating efforts with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding these issues.

Citizens speak

The news was well received by the citizens who made public statements during the meeting. As Milanville, PA filmmaker Josh Fox filmed for his upcoming movie about natural gas drilling, citizens implored members of the council to act.

Damascus Township resident Bernard Handler spoke first. “Please ask for an environmental impact study and seek a moratorium on drilling until we get more information,” he said. “We don’t want to move away from here and we don’t want to die here any sooner than we have to. On your website, it says that the UDC has enjoyed remarkable success preventing significant incompatible uses proposed for the river valley, and that’s exactly what they’re proposing.”

Citizen James Barth called upon the UDC to “publicly take a stand regarding the potential massive industrial impact that will be created by drilling.”

Calling the protracted fight against the NYRI powerline project “just a dress rehearsal,” compared to the threat of drilling, Lackawaxen, PA resident Pat Carullo applauded the DRBC’s news and said, “I thank the commission for taking its current approach, but I don’t hear our UDC using this same type of language. I beg the council to take a stand. This is why you exist, to protect the river. New York City has demanded a ban in their watershed. They value their watershed as something unique and special.”

Not all were in favor of keeping drilling out of the region. The UDC alternate for the Town of Hancock, Fred Peckham, who owns property on the Delaware River, said, “I have a right to do what I please with it. I know environmental cautions should be put in place, but a lot of these processes aren’t as destructive as people would have you believe.”

Jane Cyphers of Milanville, PA spoke next: “I plead with you to be the voice of reason in this gas drilling madness. Six and a half months ago, we woke up to this nightmare. Thousands of research hours later, it’s crystal clear that there is nothing natural about natural gas and that it does not come cheap. Let there be no doubt that there are huge environmental impacts that must be studied.

“Not everyone can move and not everyone wants to,” she continued. “You can be sure that there will be lawsuits for loss of property value and the quiet clean environment we all invested in. I pay taxes here; I should have a voice just like those landowners who are so anxious to trade clean water, clean air and peace for a monthly check. Natural gas is not a viable alternative if the quality of life in the river basin is ruined.”

Fox, who interviewed people in Texas, Colorado and Wyoming with severe health effects they claim are related to drilling, asked members of the UDC to visit his website at www.WaterUnderAttack.com to view his footage. “I put it online because I feel it’s very important,” said Fox.

In response to the comments, Shohola Township representative to the UDC George Fluhr said, “This council has spent a great deal of money and time on this. In cooperation with the National Park Service, they had a seminar. The council awarded $12,000 to the towns of Tusten, Cochecton and Highland to determine how they as townships can deal with this situation. As far as I know, there has not been a request from any of the towns or townships that the UDC take a position.”

Fluhr urged the citizens to take action within their towns. “Make your feelings known to your local government because this council has always responded to a member township,” he said. “We are not individuals in the sense of being free to act without the blessing of those townships that we represent. What we are doing is preparing, gathering information, encouraging the kind of thing that you are doing tonight. We are, at this point, helping the towns get the information they need to make a decision.”

Citizen Michael Lebron, whose work in the pharmaceutical industry has led him to conclude that drilling is less regulated than the introduction of new drugs, said, “We may be subjecting ourselves and millions of others to the largest uncontrolled medical trial in the history of the world.”

UDC representative from the Town of Deerpark Phil Chase concluded, “Everyone has learned something tonight. I don’t want to see this watershed change any more than anyone else in this room.”

UDC executive director Bill Douglass explained the UDC’s position. “We have a diverse body of people on the board and we would want to see what each of the town’s stand is, before we take a stand,” he said. “We let the towns handle their own direction because they represent so many different views. We’re going to work with both states and the DRBC. They have the regulatory power. We’re really happy that they’re stepping up to the plate.”

Several days after the meeting, a Wayne County landowner received a letter from Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C. and its agent Long Consulting Group, LLC (“Chesapeake”) revoking and rescinding any and all prior leasing offers. The letter reads, “Chesapeake is refocusing its oil and gas efforts and is scaling back its leasing efforts. This re-focusing is due to regulatory issues and current economic factors.”

TRR photo by Sandy Long
Citizens and members of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability made their concerns about natural gas extraction known at a recent meeting of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) and asked that the river management council make its position clear. (Click for larger version)