The Susquehanna River Basin Commission Tuesday held a public hearing at Lycoming College to roll out proposed regulation revisions designed to streamline the water use application process for gas well development while protecting the river basin's water resources.
The hearing was chaired by Cathleen C. Myers, who said natural gas exploration has increased dramatically over the last year in the river basin. Much of the focus of the exploration involves the Marcellus Shale region, she said.
Thomas Beauday, deputy director of the commission, and Michael Brownell, chief of the agency's Water Resource Management Division, discussed the proposed revisions and why the commission believes they are necessary.
The reaction to the proposed regulations depended on one's point of view.
Some in attendance praised the proposed rules. One person said they ignored key issues, particularly regarding chemicals used by the industry in hydrofracing operations. A gas industry official expressed reservations about nearly all of the revisions.
Bradford County planner James Weaver praised the commission for the work it has done to regulate the use of the region's water resources.
Proposed revisions include:
Requiring all requests for consumptive water use approval to go through an administrative procedure instead of the commission's standard application process.
Allow the administrative process to include a broader range of water sources as part of the consumptive use approval, including public water supplies, discharges from wastewater treatment plants and other lesser quality water sources such as mine pools and withdrawals from other sources approved separately by the commission.
Regulate projects on a per-drilling pad basis rather than on a company leasehold basis encompassing more than one drilling sites over what can be large areas.
Require projects to comply with state and federal laws associated with the disposal and treatment of flowback fluids, including brines.
Incorporate the determination by commission executive director Paul Swartz that all quantities of water withdrawn for natural gas well development be reviewed by the commission. Previously, regulations require water use permits only if a company surpasses a daily quantity threshold.
Limit commission approval to five years instead of 15 years.
Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel said he was concerned the proposed regulations did not include a provision requiring gas exploration companies to identify the chemicals used in hydrofracing operations.
Hydrofracing involves the pumping of large amounts of pressurized water, sand and chemicals into the ground to pulverize the shale and release the gas trapped within it.
Heimel also urged the commission to consider regulations that prevented water consumption during droughts.
Scott Blauvet, a representative of the Marcellus Shale Committee, a group comprised of two gas and oil industry organizations, spoke on behalf of more than two dozen gas companies doing business in Pennsylvania.
"The potential economic benefits (of gas exploration in Pennsylvania) are staggering," Blauvet said, adding he is "confident that Marcellus Shale development will conducted in a safe, environmentally responsible manner."
Blauvet disputed commission estimates that up to 28 million gallons of water could be used daily by the natural gas industry in the river basin region.
Blauvet said the amount will be closer to 19 million gallons per day, which will amount to less than 4 percent of the water used in the river basin.
Even the higher estimate would only amount to half the water used by the region's golf course industry, he said.
Blauvet expressed concerns over the regulation requiring water use permits on per drilling pad basis, rather than on a leasehold basis encompassing multiple well sites.
Blauvet said requiring companies to demonstrate backflow fluids from hydrofracing have been disposed of according to state and federal regulations "appears redundant and unnecessary."
Blauvet also expressed concern over a regulation prohibiting the transfer of a water use approval with a change of well site ownership.
According to Blauvet, transfer of ownership is a natural occurrence in the industry. There is "no rationale" requiring a well to cease operation while a new application is submitted, he said.
Former Lycoming County Planning Commission executive director Jerry S. Walls told the commission it should notify municipalities when water use applications are submitted. The state Supreme Court is currently considering two cases that might give some regulating power to local municipalities.