Delaware River Basin Commission approves water uses for natural-gas-pipeline firm

Posted: July 12, 2012

The Delaware River Basin Commission can't seem to get away from issues involving natural gas.

At its meeting Wednesday, the interstate agency that oversees water issues in the river basin unanimously approved water withdrawals totaling nearly six million gallons for a major interstate pipeline project that would involve tunneling under the Delaware River.

It also approved the discharge of water used to pressure-test the pipeline.

Opponents, who included residents of Northeast Pennsylvania plus several environmental groups in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, argued against the project, saying that granting permission was premature and that the provisions for protecting the environment were inadequate. They noted that letters had been submitted by at least 14 officials objecting to the request.

They also said the pipeline project was plagued with permit violations and that the firm building it, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., had left a swath of ecological disasters in its wake along other sections of the project.

Aaron Stemplewicz, staff attorney for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, spoke of "continuous and systemic" compliance failures by the company.

Critics argued that the commission should assess the cumulative impacts of the many pipeline projects expected to crisscross the basin before granting permission related to any single project.

The project is part of Tennessee Gas' $400 million Northeast Upgrade Project, which would enlarge the line going through Northeast Pennsylvania, crossing from Pike County into Wayne County, N.J., and then into "growing markets in the Northeast," according to company information.

The water withdrawals and disposals under consideration Wednesday were for two portions of the line totaling slightly more than 25 miles in the upper Delaware River Basin. The water would be taken from the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers.

At the meeting, Holland resident Betty Tatham read a letter that the presidents of the League of Women Voters in the four basin states had written objecting to the withdrawal approval. She said afterward that "a cumulative impact study before both water withdrawals and pipeline placements are determined seems prudent to us."

No one from the company spoke.

Only two of the commission's five members - from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York state, plus a representative from the Army Corps of Engineers - commented before approval was granted.

New Jersey representative Michele Siekerka emphasized that the project was "just one piece of a much bigger, multijurisdictional project" and that "with regard to the permit request in front of us, they've met the regulatory requirements."

Siekerka is assistant commissioner for water-resource management at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Pennsylvania's representative, Kelly Jean Heffner, who is deputy secretary for water management in the Department of Environmental Protection, echoed Siekerka's "excellent comments."

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said she did not learn that the commission would be voting on this request until 10 days ago when it posted the agenda. That wasn't enough time to respond, she said.

The commission is continuing to discuss proposed natural-gas regulations that, if adopted, would end a moratorium on natural-gas drilling in the river basin.

Heffner said the member states have been working to resolve technical issues. "We are moving forward as a group. As soon as we have additional information, we will make that available to everyone," she said.

DRBC executive director Carol R. Collier has said that she would be surprised if the commission acted on the regulations before November.

Contact Sandy Bauers

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