More on last week's DRBC hearing in Deposit: Local pro-drillers speak out

Photo of crowd outside last week's DRBC hearing in Deposit by Lillian Browne.

On Wednesday, June 1, the Delaware River Basin Commission held a public hearing in Deposit to discuss whether or not the agency should grant XTO Energy a permit to withdraw water from the Oquaga Creek for hydraulic fracturing in Delaware and Broome Counties.

The hearing drew hundreds of people, but press coverage of it has been fairly sparse. We ran an item on the hearing last week, in which we linked to a story by the Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin, which sent reporter Steve Reilly to cover the hearing. Reilly notes that the anti-drilling faction was well represented:

While both sides enjoyed healthy representation on Wednesday, the majority of the speakers spoke against the withdrawal.

"A large withdrawal operation with a staging area for trucks and industrial activity would negatively affect the best use of this creek," said Sullivan County resident Carolyn Duke.

Since then, we've come across a few more accounts that go into more detail about the pro-drilling comments made at the hearing. Here's Energy In Depth, a gas industry newsletter, with an account of the hearing (and a brief video clip of a Sanford landowner testifying):

As for the actual comment period, I am proud to say that the first 21 speakers stood up in support of XTO’s application, and not a one went over the allotted 2 minutes! These testimonies were predominately given by elected officials from Broome and Delaware Counties who represent the best interests of their constituents in those areas. It was great to see so many officials take a stand for the people they represent.

All editorializing aside, the testimony from local elected officials was indeed overwhelmingly pro-drilling. Watershed Post correspondent Lillian Browne attended the hearing and sent us an account of the first two and a half hours of testimony, which was dominated by pro-drilling comments. Alas, Browne was unable to stay for the entire hearing, but her eyewitness account includes many comments made at the hearing by local officials and landowners.

Browne's report:

"Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks to Deposit Central School on Wednesday to be heard on the issue of withdrawal of water from Oquaga Creek by XTO Energy, Inc.  The soaring temperatures and high humidity seemed to exacerbate the already heated tempers of individuals and groups on opposite sides of Marcellus shale drilling activities in the area.

Rick Williams, a Deposit resident, was present to support the granting of the permit by the Delaware River Basin Commissioner (DRBC) to XTO Energy, “We want to help support XTO. This is normally a simple application. There is some protesting that has made a simple application turn into a big controversial project. We were at other hearings where 16 applications were rubberstamped for more water than this. It’s out of hand and needs to move forward.”

The resounding message of both elected officials in Delaware and Broome Counties and residents and landowners in the Towns of Deposit and Sanford were in favor of the Delaware River Basin Commission granting the permit to XTO Energy, Inc., which is wholly owned by Exxon Mobil.  The public hearing, held on June 1st, in Deposit, was the second of two public hearings on this permit application. The first hearing was held on Trenton, NJ on May 11th. The DRBC agreed to hear public comment at a location near the site of the proposed withdrawal.

Town of Sanford Supervisor Dewey Decker spoke in favor of the approval of the permit, “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources.  Oquaga Creek flows through the Town of Sanford. That makes us both the caretakers and taxpayers.  This water withdrawal permit is very small requiring less than one-half of one percent of the average daily flow.  In comparison, the New York City Water System is leaking 75% percent of the entire average flow of Oquaga Creek. This permit should not be treated differently because the water will be used for natural gas development.  Downstream recreation should not trump job opportunity for upstream residents. The decision must be based on the facts on hand and sound science.”

Delaware County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Eisel also spoke in favor of granting the permit. “I know exactly how my board feels and I think this is bit of injustice for XTO Energy Corp., and I want to support them as my board and myself support hydrofracking.”

Eisel continued, “What has me perplexed is the discriminatory posture that the commission has taken.  My recommendation to the commission is to rely on science and quit reading the emotional driven editorials.”

Town of Deposit Supervisor Thomas Axtel spoke, “I fully support this application and urge the commission to review this for what it is, a request to withdraw water. Denial of this request would set unfair precedent for potential economic gain for municipalities and businesses. Since this hearing was intended to allow local residents living in this area to voice their concerns, I urge the commission to closely monitor the comments from out of area activists that neither live here nor contribute significantly to our wellbeing. “

The operations engineer for the Appalachian Division XTO Energy, Dan Tomley addressed the Commission, “(XTO) … is applying to withdraw no more than 250,000 gallons per day at a location owned by the Town of Sanford. The average daily flow from Oquaga Creek is approximately 42 million gallons per day. That means that our maximum proposed withdrawal will be approximately one-half of one percent of the average daily flow.  Our withdrawal will be relatively small and comes with protection for the water supply. “

Tomley went on to point out that there are four different regulatory agencies that would oversee the withdrawal process which include, The Delaware River Basin Commissioner, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Army Corp of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sandra Davis, business owner, land owner and resident of Deposit favored the withdrawal of water, “We farm, timber, quarry and we have other businesses in Deposit as well.  This application, if approved, will not authorize any other actions with respect to natural gas development, all of which must await DRBC and DEC regulations. “ Davis  continued, “…we are fighting with city residents over the right to use the tiniest fraction of what water remains after the city stole what it wanted. The Commission’s decision must be based upon the science articulated in your docket and not some popularity contest among city residents.”

For the first two and a half hours of the hearing, the sentiment was the same.  The opposing view was then expressed from various groups throughout the state.  Questions were asked by members of the Riverkeeper, an organization that promotes itself as an advocate to keep New York’s water clean. “How can you permit water to be used for hydrofracking is there is no regulation in place?”

Commission members responded repeatedly that the issue at hand was withdrawal of water and that of the permitting process.  The DRBC has received 58,000 comments with regard to their proposal for regulations.  The DRBC stated that they will consider all comments before setting forth proposed regulations."