Gas Drilling Supporters Outnumber Those Opposed at Honesdale DRBC Hearings, Roundup of Yesterday’s Hearings in PA and NY

Yesterday saw the first round of hearings by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), four hearings total—two in Honesdale, PA and two in Liberty, NY (afternoon and evening sessions at both locations). The hearings were for public comment on the DRBC’s proposed new extra layer of drilling regulations for Marcellus Shale gas wells drilled within the Delaware River watershed, which includes portions of Pennsylvania and New York where Marcellus drilling occurs.

According to media reports, there were around 300 people at the Honesdale afternoon session and 100 people at the Liberty session. By all accounts, there were people on both sides of the drilling debate, although it’s interesting to note that where drilling is already happening, in the Honesdale, PA area, triple the number of people showed up—and the majority of them support drilling:

The testimony is heavily pro-drilling. Of the first 45 or so people to speak, only five opposed drilling. Common themes of the testimony have included concerns the commission’s regulations will prevent drilling in Wayne County, that they have not balanced economic concerns with environmental ones and they take away private property owner rights.(1)

Both sides of the debate seemed in agreement on one issue: They oppose the DRBC’s proposed regulations, but for different reasons. Below is a roundup of the media coverage.

On the pro-drilling side of the  debate:

“We all support natural gas that is done in a safe and environmentally-friendly manner,” said Ned Lang of Narrowsburg. “I don’t think there’s one person here who would tell you differently.”

“It’s done throughout the rest of the country, so let’s do it here and let’s do it now,” Lang said.

Bradford County commissioner Doug McLinko was also present at the hearings. He testified on his experience with the arrival of the natural gas industry as a leading official in the most drilled county in the Commonwealth.

“We have about 1,500 wells permitted with just about 600 wells already drilled,” McLinko said. “We have water impoundments with fresh water ponds that are lined, they’re safe, we have water extractions on the rivers, on the Susquehanna and three creeks. Everything is really going well.”(2)

Susan Dorsey, who owns land in Chenango County, and serves as vice president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, urged the commission to move forward.

“The NIMBY obstructionists are afraid that gas drilling might hurt someone. Delay and regulation are hurting people right now,” Dorsey said. “If you don’t allow people along the basin the right to sell their mineral rights, then buy the minerals … We need oversight, not delay.”(3)

Those for drilling…said the 83 pages of regulations would delay or stop the economic development Sullivan and neighboring Pennsylvania so desperately need. They zeroed in on the DRBC’s discretionary power to approve drilling and the proposed 500 foot drilling setbacks from any body of water that “will prevent drilling on 99-100 percent of our land,” said Livingston Manor’s Al Larson, who heads a landowners group in Sullivan that wants to lease land for drilling.

“These are not regulations. They are strangulations,” he said.(4)

And on the anti-drilling side of the debate:

“To let the regulations go forward without a cumulative impact study, getting some of the fundamental questions about safety, makes no sense whatsoever,” said Wes Gillingham of Youngsville.(2)

“If you don’t have the resources to perform a cumulative impact statement, then you probably don’t have the resources to regulate this industry,” said Ramsay Adams, executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “You have the opportunity to wait and get good science that you don’t have the resources to get yourself.”

Allan Rubin, of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, performed an impromptu puppet show to voice his displeasure with the gas industry, complete with full script and cue-card holder.(3)

But, said many anti-drilling speakers like Barryville’s Debra Conway, the DRBC’s goal shouldn’t be economic. It should be about protecting the water they say will be polluted by the 10,000-12,000 wells the DRBC says would be drilled in the river basin.

“We have had difficulty imagining how gas extraction could coexist benignly with our river paradise,” said Lumberland’s Peter Comstock.(4)

If you attended a hearing in either location, please leave your impressions and thoughts in the comments below.

(1)Times-Tribune (Feb 22) – Hundreds turn out for hearing on Delaware River Basin drilling

(2)WBNG-TV Channel 12 (Feb 22) – Delaware River Drilling Debate

(3)Press & Sun-Bulletin (Feb 22)  – Strong debate rages on gas drilling in Delaware River Basin

(4)Times Herald-Record (Feb 23) – Drilling regulations please neither side