Lehigh Valley

Hearing on fracking draws dozens, many opposed

Next public hearing will be phone-in

SCHNECKSVILLE, Pa. - The Delaware River Basin Commission held its last in-person hearing Thursday on a proposed ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the river basin and on other natural gas regulations.

About 30 people, a large number of which voiced support for the ban, spoke at the roughly two-and-a-half-hour hearing. The hearing, the fifth in a series of six, was held at the Lisa Scheller-Wayne Woodman Community Services Center at Lehigh Carbon Community College. 

Retired Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Bill Ford moderated the hearing on behalf of the Commission.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process whereby a combination of water, sand and chemicals is injected into a wellbore to create cracks in rock formations so that natural gas and shale contained within the rocks flow more freely and are easier to extract.

The proposed rules would prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin. HVHF refers to using a combined total of 300,000 or more gallons of water during all stages in a well completion.

The new regulations would also require the Commission’s approval for the exportation from the basin of any rate or volume of surface water, groundwater, treated wastewater or mine drainage water for hydraulic fracturing outside the basin.

Current rules require the Commission to review proposed exports of water only when they involve an average of 100,000 gallons per day or more over a three-day period. 

Under the proposed regulations, the Commission would also need to approve any bid to import wastewater into the basin or treat and discharge any wastewater within the basin created from outside fracking projects.

The commission currently only needs to review importations of wastewater when they involve a daily average rate of 50,000 gallons per day or more over a three-day period. 

Any water treated within the basin would be required, under the proposed rules, to be treated only at a centralized waste treatment facility.

The regulations forbid the Commission from approving the discharge of treated water within the basin unless the project sponsor identifies the proposed source of the wastewater. 

The project sponsor would also need to submit a treatability study prepared by a professional engineer licensed in the state in which the treatment and discharge facilities are located.

Many of those who spoke at the meeting said they wanted nothing less than a complete ban on fracking and did not want companies to be allowed to import wastewater into the basin or to remove water from the basin for use in projects outside the basin at all.

Donald Miles, a member of the board of the Lehigh Valley branch of the state Sierra Club, said he supported the ban on fracking but not the allowance of importation of wastewater and extraction of water from the basin for fracking outside the area, regardless of whether the Commission would need to review a proposed project.

Banning high-volume fracking but not the importation of wastewater or extraction of basin water would be akin to declaring that cars are dangerous but saying the “exhaust is okay,” Miles said.

Joseph Hoffman, who for 15 years worked with the Wildlands Conservancy, suggested that the Commission hold a youth forum where it hears the opinions of school students.

Younger people have not “been well-represented” at previous hearings, and “those people need to be heard,” Hoffman said. 

He had visited several schools in the state and has learned that young people are aware of the effects of fracking on water resources and are concerned about them, Hoffman said. 

Beth Kelley of New York City said that only a permanent ban on fracking would protect the basin from the natural gas industry. The “so-called” public input process by the DRBC has not included any public hearings in any of the other river basin states but Pennsylvania, Kelley said. 

Jodi Roggi said there should be a total ban on fracking because it creates “too much potential” for groundwater contamination.

Northampton County Commissioner Tara Zrinsky said that society should transition from using fossil fuels such as natural gas and look for ways to use renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro power. 

People should stand up and say that they “don’t need this dirty energy anymore,” Zrinsky said.

Stephanie Catarino Wissman, the executive director of Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, said that several studies by government agencies and academic institutions show that natural gas production does not lead to widespread effects on the quality of drinking water resources. 

Oil and gas production supports many jobs in the state, Wissman said. 

Blayne Diacont, a water resource officer in the natural gas industry, maintained that industries do all they can to ensure they are “good stewards of the environment.”

The DRBC, in announcing the hearing in a release in early January, also said that it was extending the period for written comments from the public on the proposed regulations from Feb. 28 to March 30.

The DRBC will conduct a public hearing by telephone from 1:30 to 3:30 on March 6.

The commissioners will vote on the proposed regulations at an upcoming meeting after considering all the public’s comments.

The commission consists of the four basin state governors — New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware -- and the Division Engineer of the North Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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