The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) said Monday it would hold a public hearing in February as it reconsiders about 20 water withdrawal permits it approved for Marcellus Shale gas drillers during a raucous meeting in December.

SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz said the commission would hold a public hearing on Feb. 16 and accept written comments through Feb. 27 on 26 groundwater, surface water and consumptive use permits it approved at its Dec. 15 meeting in Wilkes-Barre, PA, an event disrupted by anti-drilling activists.

"The commission has decided to reconsider its December action on those project applications because the disruptive behavior of certain individuals prevented interested persons from offering testimony at the time," Swartz said. "We are committed to preserving the due process rights of all citizens so they can provide constructive and meaningful comments on proposed projects."

The SRBC said it would also accept oral and written comments on another 34 permits still under consideration and one request to withdraw a permit application. The commission indicated that the permits issued in December were still considered valid, but it would not take up any actions until its next regularly scheduled meeting in mid-March.

"This is certainly welcome news," Travis Windle, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "It was terribly unfortunate, but not unexpected, that some who oppose the responsible development of clean-burning, job-creating American natural gas opted once again for inflammatory actions rather than engaging in an adult conversation about water management based on facts.

"With hope, this upcoming hearing will encourage a civil dialogue rather than side-show antics."

A video posted on YouTube purportedly shows a group of about 20 anti-drilling protesters disrupting the SRBC's December meeting. The protesters shouted slogans and came eye-to-eye with commission members, forcing them to adjourn the meeting.

The Feb. 16 public hearing will be held in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania State Capitol, East Wing, Room 8E-B, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. EST. Persons wishing to speak at the hearing are asked to contact Richard Cairo, general counsel for the SRBC, ahead of time. Attendees will also be asked to show photo identification, and signs poster and banners will be permitted in designated areas only. Additional security is also planned.

"Conducting a public hearing on project applications one month before the commission acts on the projects is a new procedure and represents an improvement over our past practice," Swartz said. "This change will give the public ample opportunities for commenting and will give the commissioners more time to review and consider comments before voting on proposed projects.

"The Commission is, and will remain, an open and transparent agency with a robust public participation process that allows all citizens to offer constructive and meaningful public input."

At least 18 of the 26 permits the SRBC issued at the December meeting were for Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Among them were:

The Susquehanna River Basin covers 27,510 square miles, including half of Pennsylvania and parts of New York and Maryland, and makes up a sizeable portion of the Marcellus Shale play. It is managed by the SRBC, a compact set up by the federal government in 1971. Representatives from the three aforementioned states and the Army Corps of Engineers serve as commissioners.