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Paterson tells DRBC to wait

Regional water regulator receives pressure from all sides now

By FRITZ MAYER

UPPER DELAWARE VALLEY — The governor of New York has stepped into the fray regarding the issue of gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed and the role of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) in regulating it.

On December 6, Governor David Paterson wrote a letter to the executive director of the DRBC, Carol Collier, urging the commission to “halt its efforts to enact regulations” regarding horizontal drilling with high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the basin.

The governor wrote that the state is already involved in a comprehensive review of drilling, but “DRBC appears intent on going forward with a regulatory program that would not have the advantage of the full investigations and public deliberations taking place in New York.”

Paterson said it would be better for DRBC to participate in the review process already underway in the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, rather than creating its own regulatory protocols that might be different than those ultimately adopted by the state, which could cause confusion, duplication and other problems.

On another front, the DRBC is being pressured by the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) to issue regulations soon, and to not expand the scope of the rules. NWPOA issued a press release on November 17 saying that 13 landowner groups in New York and Pennsylvania had joined together to “to chide the DRBC about its tardiness in setting out regulations…” The groups also expressed concern “about what seems to be the DRBC’s determination to enlarge its scope and begin regulating activities that have been under the jurisdiction of its member states since decades before the commission was established.”

On a third front, the DRBC has now received testimony from experts working for Damascus Citizens for Sustainability and Delaware Riverkeeper regarding DRBC’s decision to allow 11 so-called test wells to go forward in Wayne County before new rules have been issued.

Among the comments submitted, consulting engineer Susan L. Harvey wrote that the 11 wells “do not meet DRBC’s definition of an exploration well eligible for grandfathered status,” meaning they should not have been allowed to go forward.

Also, chemist Ronald E. Bishop, Ph.D wrote about the dangers of gas drilling to the watershed. He wrote, “The probability that shale gas well projects will impact local groundwater ranges from 4.0% to 5.7% over the short term, i.e. while the wells are in development. And the probability that shale gas wells will degrade local water quality over the long term (50 years) exceeds 16%; a project scope of as few as 10 wells practically guarantees long-term groundwater contamination.”

The DRBC hearing about the test wells will be held from January 19 though January 26, 2011, at the Federal Courtroom, Holmes Building, fourth floor, Larry Holmes Dr., in Easton, PA 18042.