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DRBC Postpones Water Withdrawal Requests in New York

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) agreed Thursday to a request by New York that any water withdrawal applications for natural gas development in the state be postponed until the Empire State completes its environmental review of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The decision effectively blocks XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp., from receiving a DRBC permit to withdraw up to 250,000 gallons of water per day from Oquaga Creek near Sanford, NY, in Broome County. XTO planned to use the water for natural gas exploration and production activities in Broome and Delaware counties.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to postpone the applications at the request of New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens, who had petitioned the DRBC on May 31.

XTO officials could not be reached for comment Friday, but the company had submitted its water withdrawal application to the DRBC in August 2010. Two public hearings on the request were on May 11 and June 1.

Two other water withdrawal requests in Broome County are also affected by the DRBC's decision:

"Kamp and Deposit are the only applications we have received, but they are still currently undergoing house review," DRBC spokeswoman Katherine O'Hara told NGI's Shale Daily on Friday. "They have not yet come before the commissioners for a public hearing. Obviously that whole process will now be delayed."

O'Hara said the commission has no other pending requests for water withdrawals in the Delaware River Basin, although a permit issued to Stone Energy Corp. in 2010 will be affected by Thursday's decision. "Stone Energy's water withdrawal approval stipulates that they cannot withdraw any water until they have their associated approvals for their well pad development activities, which obviously is also on hold," O'Hara said.

Stone Energy submitted a water withdrawal application to the DRBC on March 5, 2009. The Lafayette, LA-based company was seeking permission to withdraw up to 700,000 gallons of water per day from the West Branch of the Lackawaxen River in Mount Pleasant Township, which is in Wayne County, PA. The water would be used to support a Marcellus Shale gas well in Clinton Township, also in Wayne County.

A public hearing on Stone Energy's request was held on Feb. 24, 2010, and the DRBC issued the permit on July 14, 2010.

The DEC said Nov. 30 it needed another month to complete an environmental review and proposed regulations for fracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1). The agency also extended the public comment period for the proposed rules until Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, the DRBC postponed its Nov. 21 meeting shortly after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he opposed a proposal for the commission to revise its water quality regulations and open the basin to Marcellus gas drilling (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21). A makeup date for the meeting has still not been scheduled.

The final version of the DRBC's proposal was released on Nov. 1, nearly one year after it was first proposed (see Shale Daily, Nov. 9; Dec. 10, 2010). If adopted, the rulemaking would "constitute a joint exercise of the sovereign authority of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and the federal government" under the Delaware River Basin Compact and would amend the DRBC plan for the basin.

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