NARROWSBURG, NY — Impassioned outbursts are fairly frequent occurrences during regional discussions of natural gas exploration in the Upper Delaware region these days. Upper Delaware Council (UDC) meetings are no exception and the release of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) Draft Natural Gas Development Regulations has prompted a flurry of concerns related to the process for making public comment on the new regs.
Many say the March 16 deadline is too short. Others are unhappy that email comments will not be accepted. Most are scrambling to draft their responses to the 83-page document developed between DRBC staff and commissioners, and described by DRBC communications manager Clarke Rupert as “an iterative process.”
Ultimately, the staff takes its cues from the five commissioners who represent the states of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the federal government. “We would offer a draft, they would give us feedback and we would incorporate that feedback,” said Rupert during the February 3 meeting of the UDC. The proposed regs have been released in order to continue the dialogue and the process, according to Rupert. “The commissioners felt the draft is ready to share with the public to start the rulemaking process.”
It is currently uncertain what will happen after March 16. “It will be the commissioners’ call as to whether changes should be made to the draft regs based on the comments we receive,” said Rupert. “It’s possible that we might have to go out for public comment again. These are unknowns.”
Damascus resident Bernie Handler asked whether the DRBC will add any additional public hearings or extend the public comment period. “We’re going to consult with our commissioners on those requests,” said Rupert “What currently stands is what’s in effect now.”
“What real place does the public have in this?” asked
Barbara Arrindell of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability. “Is the public basically an annoyance?” “The public input is important,” said Rupert.
“There were thousands of comments about the water withdrawal from the Lackawaxen River, mostly negative. Yet, the commission passed the water withdrawal,” continued Arrindell. “It’s as if the comments were irrelevant. How is this going to be any different?”
“My crystal ball is not working, so I don’t know how this will turn out,” said Rupert. “The commissioners have to make the ultimate decisions in terms of taking the input from the public and making a decision on what to do. It’s not that they ignored the input, they considered it, but they still felt it was something that they could approve.”
Honesdale, PA resident Jane Prettyman asked if a cumulative impact study was ever considered by the DRBC. “We don’t have the funding,” said Rupert. “We reached out to various congressional offices asking for assistance. Congressman Hinchey went to bat and got above and beyond our request, but in the final analysis, everything has come to a halt because of the way Congress is addressing earmarks or what really are congressionally directed efforts. With the new leadership in the House, it is unlikely that any earmarks will be in bills in the foreseeable future.”
Rupert said that new information that becomes available in the future could be incorporated at that point.
Prettyman responded, “It sounds like you’re allowing an experiment to go on. With all due respect, I don’t think that’s a very good way to proceed.”
Rupert said, “I would guess that the kind of approach you’re suggesting is something we will hear in the comments and the commissioners will have to make a decision as to how they’re going to respond to that. It’s all part of the input process that you and others are raising.”
Prettyman asked that the UDC include a request for a cumulative impact study in its letter, and that they call for application of the precautionary principle, which states, “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically (www.sehn.org/precaution.html ).”
Grappling with the process
Meanwhile, the UDC is drafting its comment letter, and finding the process to be contentious. Town of Delaware, NY representative Harold Roeder “forcefully made his point” about the regulations at a January 25 meeting of the Project Review Committee, while Town of Hancock, NY representative Fred Peckham said he feels there is “too much power” relegated to DRBC executive director Carol Collier.
The grappling continued at the UDC’s monthly meeting, following announcement of a special work session scheduled for February 10 at 6:30 p.m. to review the DRBC’s proposed regs in order to prepare written comments. There will be no public comment allowed, but the meeting is open to the public. Two representatives from DRBC will be in attendance.
Town of Tusten alternate Tony Ritter suggested inviting an individual with geological expertise to ask appropriate technical questions for the benefit of the UDC. Following considerable debate, it was agreed that the name of a trained geologist who could ask informed questions could be submitted for consideration by the UDC.
The UDC also approved a draft letter to the National Park Service announcing itself as an interested party regarding its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for a proposed revision of NPS rules on Nonfederal Oil and Gas Development within the Boundaries of Units of the National Park System (edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-32545.htm).
The UDC meets monthly on the first Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at its office at 211 Bridge Street in Narrowsburg, NY. All meetings are open to the public. Visit www.upperdelawarecouncil.org  or call 845/252-3022.
Submitting comments to DRBC
• The DRBC will utilize a specialized online submission process to handle the expectedly high volume of comments. These will be incorporated with written comments submitted by mail or delivered to the DRBC office and oral comments collected during three hearings.
• Comment early, be specific and provide as much substantive information and supportive documentation as possible.
• Comments will be sorted by topic, so it may be advisable to submit comments on multiple topics individually to avoid having them sorted by the first comment only. There is no limit to the number of written comments allowed, however the online system is limited to approximately 10 pages and oral testimony is limited to two minutes. If you have objections to the public comment process, those should also be included.
• For specific information visit www.state.nj.us/drbc/notice_naturalgas-draftregs.htm  or contact Rupert at 609/883-9500 ext. 260, firstname.lastname@example.org .