ULSTER - The fire hall in this tiny Bradford County village near Towanda filled with about 80 mostly older people Thursday who listened in on a public hearing held by the House of Representatives Republican Policy Committee to discuss concerns about ongoing natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
The panel of legislators, including moderator Tina Pickett, R-Towanda, came from all over the Northern Tier to listen to industry representatives and officials from the state Department of Environmental Resources, Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Central Bradford Progress Authority give testimony on how concerns about water use, quality and recycling, among other things, are being handled.
On the subject of water use, Susquehanna River Basin Commission Deputy Director and Counsel Thomas Beauduy first told the panel what the agency doesn't do.
CHERYL R. CLARKE/Sun-Gazette
Rep. Sandra Major,R-Montrose, asks questions of the natural gas industry representatives from Chesapeake and East Resources and Marcellus Shale Coalition president and Executive Director Kathryn Klaber during a public hearing at the Ulster-Sheshequin Fire Hall in Ulster, Bradford County, on Thursday.
"We don't regulate drilling or the production or transmission of natural gas. Nor do we regulate the treatment, disposal and reuse of flowback and production fluids, including brines," he said.
"What we do regulate is the withdrawal and consumptive use of water associated with natural gas development activity," he added.
In that capacity, Beauduy said, the agency works closely with DEP to keep the industry's use of water from rivers and streams under control.
"Our management objective is to have this industry avail itself of the water resources of the basin in the development of this important mineral resource, but to do it in a way that minimizes impact to the basin's water resources," Beauduy said.
The natural gas industry is a "water-thirsty industry," he said, and that only will increase as production ramps up.
But, Beauduy said in the larger picture, the gas industry removes a fraction of what golf courses use per year. Even so, the agency has taken steps to better monitor and control water use in the basin.
"We effectively eliminated our standard regulatory thresholds applicable to all other types of water use, 100,000 gallons per day for withdrawals and 20,000 gallons per day for consumptive use. If you drill into the Marcellus or Utica shale formations, you need a consumptive use approval from us, and all sources of water used for the operation require advanced commission approval, regardless of the quantity. For this industry it starts with gallon one," he said.
"The bottom line is, yes, we can accommodate the use, but it needs to be managed well," he added.
To aid in that management, Beauduy said a new office has opened in Sayre, with four full-time personnel.
Groundwater contamination such as occurred in Dimock put a "black eye" on the industry and its overseeing agencies.
DEP's Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resources Management J. Scott Roberts told the panel that the Dimock situation resulted in fines on the Texas-based Cabot Oil and Gas. The company also must plug the three offending wells by the middle of June and install permanent treatment systems in the 14 affected water wells.
DEP also hired 37 new staff members in 2009 and is planning to hire 68 more this year, Roberts said.
Industry executives testified that they, too, are concerned about the environmental impact drilling for natural gas is having, and they want to do it in an "environmentally responsible way."