Will a Broome County trout stream be used for hydraulic fracturing?

We'll find out tomorrow whether the Delaware River Basin Commission will allow water from the Oquaga Creek, a trout stream that drains into the West Branch of the Delaware River, to be used in hydraulic fracturing projects in Delaware and Broome counties.

The DRBC will meet at 1:30pm in West Trenton, New Jersey for a public hearing where it will vote on a slew of applications for various uses of water within the Delaware River Basin.

One of those applications, XTO Energy, Inc., D-2010-022-1, caught the attention of the environmental community last week for its request to withdraw water to use for "natural gas exploration and production activities in Broome and Delaware Counties in the State of New York."

Outrage from drilling opponents was swift and immediate. Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Riverkeeper, Trout Unlimited, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Frack Action, and many other groups asked their members to write letters opposing the vote, to lobby Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Obama about it, and to attend the meeting in person to protest.  

The main objection to XTO's application seems to be its timing -- why now, when the New York Department of Environmental Conservation is still mulling over its pending regulations for hydraulic fracturing? Marcellus Shale Protest described its objections to XTO's application this way:

How can the DRBC approve this water withdrawal during its gas drilling moratorium, while its draft gas rules are pending and while New York has a hold on its generic permit for hydraulically fractured-horizontally drilled gas wells while it completes its environmental review? How can they justify pushing this approval ahead when the rules could very well change how this application will be treated? XTO has no permits for gas wells and has not justified its need for any water, much less 250,000 gallons of water every day from this cold water stream. What’s the rush? 

Despite the public outcry, the DRBC is resolve to consider XTO's application tomorrow. It posted an update on the issue on its website today:

Please be advised that the Commission's scheduled hearing on the XTO Energy draft docket will proceed tomorrow afternoon, May 11, 2011, as scheduled. DRBC staff has shared with the Commissioners the many comments submitted by the public, including requests that the Commission postpone a decision on this draft docket. The Commissioners will consider these requests at tomorrow's business meeting, along with any substantive comments provided on the draft docket.

So what, exactly, does XTO Energy, which is a division of Exxon Mobil Corporation, want to do with water from Oquaga Creek? According to the draft DRBC docket prepared for the public hearing tomorrow, XTO wants to withdraw 0.25 million gallons per day of surface water from Oquaga Creek to use to stimulate natural gas wells. 

But, the docket states, XTO won't actually be able to use that water to frack any wells until the DEC approves hydraulic fracturing in New York State:

This docket does not approve nor should it imply the Commission or any NYSDEC determinations of the natural gas development and extraction receiving sites or the activities conducted at those sites ... In proceeding with the project under this docket, the docket holder is proceeding at its own risk relative to the Commission and any NYSDEC determinations yet to be made at such receiving sites ... [N]o water withdrawal from the withdrawal site shall commence until the docket holder has received approvals by the Commission and NYSDEC for natural gas development and extraction activities to receive water as described in Section A.3.

So why is the DRBC reviewing, and, from the looks of the draft docket, planning to approve XTO's water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing? An explanation of sorts is included on page 3 of the docket, which states that the DRBC decided on May 5 to process withdrawal requests for hydraulic fracturing just like non-fracking requests water withdrawals:

On May 5, 2010, the Commissioners directed Commission staff to draft regulations for natural gas well pad projects in shale formations in the DRB ... The Commissioners also indicated that applications for water withdrawals associated with natural gas well pad activities within the DRB should continue to be processed since such applications are similar to water withdrawal applications for other uses in the DRB. 

Read the DRBC' s docket for XTO's application below:


DRBC: XTO Energy Surface Water Withdrawal for Natural Gas Exploration and Development Projects Oquaga Creek...