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Unconventional Development Prompts SRBC to Tweak Consumptive Use Regulations

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) voted to change how it defines several terms for unconventional oil and gas development, which is subject to its consumptive use regulations.

Meanwhile, the commission tabled an application by EQT Production Co. to withdraw water from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, but it approved a handful of applications from other producers.

At its quarterly business meeting last Friday, the SRBC voted to amend its Approval By Rule (ABR) program, which includes regulations on consumptive use. Specifically, the commission clarified and expanded the definition of "hydrocarbon development" to "hydrocarbon development project."

According to the SRBC, which outlined the change in the Federal Register last fall, the new definition "would retain the current language referring to 'the drilling, casing, cementing, stimulation and completion' of oil and gas wells, and would add new language to cover all water-related activities and facilities on the drilling pad site as well as specific uses of water off the drilling pad site."

The commission held public hearings to discuss the proposed rulemaking in Harrisburg, PA, in early November (see Shale DailyOct. 17). Jason Oyler, regulatory counsel for the SRBC, told NGI’s Shale Daily that most of the comments at the hearings were positive.

“We received generally favorable comments regarding the changes,” Oyler said Wednesday. “They really were [only] clarifications. A couple tweaks were made based on some of those comments, but nothing material. Very minor changes were part of the final rulemaking package, so it pretty much appears as it was in the Federal Register in September.”

The SRBC said on the drilling pad site, the new definition would include actions associated with an unconventional well's "production, maintenance, operation, closure, plugging and restoration of wells or drilling pad sites," all of which would require consumptive water use.

"The revised definition contains an illustrative, but not exhaustive, list of water uses on the drilling pad site," the SRBC said. "Off the drilling pad site, the regulated uses would be water used for hydro-seeding, dust suppression and hydro-excavation of access roads and underground lines, as well as tank cleanings, related to a drilling pad site or centralized impoundments."

The SRBC also revised the definitions for "construction" and "project;" added a definition for "drilling pad site;" and removed the definition for "unconventional natural gas development" and replaced it with "unconventional natural gas development project."

EQT's application to make withdrawals in Greenwood Township in Clearfield County, PA, was tabled. SRBC approved producer applications for water withdrawals for:

  • Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC from Pine Creek in Watson Township, Lycoming County, PA;
  • Southwestern Energy Production Co. from the Susquehanna River in Eaton Township, Wyoming County, PA;
  • SWEPI LP from the Cowanesque River in Nelson Township, Tioga County, PA;
  • Talisman Energy USA Inc. from Bradford County, PA’s Seeley Creek in Wells Township, and Wyalusing Creek in Stevens Township; and
  • Tenaska Resources LLC from the Cowanesque River in Westfield Township, Tioga County.

The commission also approved an application by Seneca Resources Corp. to divert water from the Ohio River Basin into the Susquehanna River Basin. Oyler said the company was drawing water from the Ohio basin and using it at five wells before storing it in an impoundment on the Susquehanna basin’s side of the line.

The commission also accepted a settlement offer for a compliance matter from Southwestern. Oyler said that for 17 days, the company received water from a source that was not approved by the SRBC -- the Bellefonte Borough wastewater treatment plant in Centre County, PA.

“We entered into talks with the company. They fixed the practice and as a result we entered a settlement agreement with them for $4,500 to resolve the violations,” Oyler said.

SRBC is a compact established by the federal government in 1971 and based in Harrisburg  that manages the water resources of the Susquehanna River Basin. The commission regulates some development within the Marcellus Shale in parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Susquehanna River starts in Cooperstown, NY, and flows 444 miles to Havre de Grace, MD, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. Representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and the Army Corps of Engineers serve as commissioners.

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