Allegheny Forest Watch: Marcellus Shale
November 23, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cathy Pedler – (814) 454-7523
Bill Belitskus – (814) 778-5173
Ryan Talbott – (503) 887-7845
Allegheny Defense Project, alleghenydefense.org
Department Of Environmental Protection Admits It Has No Authority To Permit Water Withdrawals For Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling In Western Pennsylvania
Nonetheless, DEP continues to encourage illegal water withdrawals
On July 26, the Allegheny Defense Project sent a letter to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger challenging the agency’s statutory authority to permit water withdrawals for Marcellus Shale gas drilling in western Pennsylvania. Marcellus Shale gas drilling requires millions of gallons of water for the High Volume Slick-water Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing process. In central and eastern Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna and Delaware River Basin Commissions have authority to permit water withdrawals. There is no commission with such authority in western Pennsylvania, however, and the DEP lacks statutory authority under state law to issue water withdrawal permits.
In his response to the Allegheny Defense Project, Secretary Hanger acknowledges that the DEP’s approval of a “water management plan” (WMP) does not, in fact, constitute an actual authorization to withdraw water from streams, lakes, and rivers. Secretary Hanger responded with the following disclaimer:
“DEP’s approval of [a Water Management Plan] does not give the operator any real or personal property rights, or the right to access water. For example, this approval does not grant or confer to the operator any right, title, easement, or interest in, to or over any land, including that of a riparian owner. Moreover, this approval does not obviate the necessity of the operator to obtain the proper consent from the riparian landowner and to comply with federal, state, and local legal requirements and common law regarding property rights. Rather, DEP’s WMP approval is intended to ensure that an operator’s use of water for natural gas well development does not violate Pennsylvania statutory law. For these reasons, DEP does not require an operator to notify riparian landowners or demonstrate that it has authority to make a water withdrawal.” (emphasis added)
Secretary Hanger’s claim that the WMP process is not viewed by the DEP as an authorization to withdraw water is contradicted by the DEP’s own documents. For example, on May 11, 2010, the DEP sent a letter to East Resources regarding the company’s proposal to add the Allegheny River as a new water withdrawal source to its existing WMP. DEP “approved” East Resources to withdraw 600,000 gallons of water per day from the Allegheny River.
“It is disingenuous for DEP to claim that its approval of a WMP for Marcellus Shale gas companies is not actually a permit to withdraw water,” said Bill Belitskus, Board President for the Allegheny Defense Project. “When the DEP sends letters to gas companies telling them they are ‘approved’ to withdraw specific amounts of water, it defies logic for the DEP to turn around and argue that it has not authorized a water withdrawal.”
Unable to cite legal authority to permit water withdrawals by Marcellus drillers from western Pennsylvania’s waterways, Secretary Hanger’s head-in-the-sand approach rises to intentional malfeasance when he states, “DEP does not require an operator to notify riparian landowners or demonstrate that it has authority to make a water withdrawal.” Instead, Secretary Hanger erroneously claims that its up to “the operator to obtain the proper consent from the riparian landowner” to withdraw water from western Pennsylvania waterways.
It must be noted that under Pennsylvania riparian law that, “a riparian owner has no property right in the water per se, but rather only a right to use the water on the riparian land. Accordingly, diversions for uses elsewhere are not protected by common law.” In other words, riparian landowners cannot sell water nor access to water under riparian rights common law; so the DEP’s assertion about operators obtaining “proper consent from the riparian landowner” is absurd on its face.
“What is truly upsetting about Secretary Hanger’s response is that while he acknowledges on the one hand the DEP has no authority to permit water withdrawals, on the other hand he refuses to require proof that these companies have any legal authority to withdraw water in the first place,” said Cathy Pedler, Forest Watch Coordinator for the Allegheny Defense Project. The DEP should not issue any more drilling permits for any oil and gas drilling until companies can demonstrate that they have a legal right to withdraw water from Pennsylvania’s waterbodies.”
 Craig M. Wilson, “Water Resources,” ch. in Pa. Environmental Law and Practice, Terry R. Bossert & Joel R. Burcat, eds. (5th Ed. 2008), PBI No. 5203, p. 189.