A quick update on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission’s week-old freeze on water withdrawals: it’s still in effect.
In fact, the ban has expanded from 36 to 41 different locations along the river and its tributaries, and will stay in place until water levels rise and stay elevated for 48 hours.
The moratorium impacts natural gas drilling, because energy companies use thousands of gallons of fluid during the hydraulic fracturing process, and get much of their liquid from nearby streams.
There’s no blanket water level that triggers the moratorium. Each withdrawal source “has [its own] predetermined trigger level,” explained SRBC spokeswoman Susan Obleski. “We establish a very conservative number, and when that hits, [withdrawal] has to cease.”
The freeze hasn’t stopped drilling, yet. Chesapeake Energy has been barred from withdrawing water at at least three locations, but company spokesman Rory Sweeney said Chesapeake drillers anticipate summertime withdrawal moratoriums, and “plan accordingly.”
“Through proper planning and water management such as the extensive use of freshwater storage impoundments and our industry-leading Aqua Renew water recycling and reuse program,” his statement continued, “these seasonal changes in water availability are extensively planned for and are not expected to have a significant effect on our operations.”
How does the SRBC know whether companies are complying with the freeze? Stream gauges run by the United States Geological Survey monitor every withdrawal point, and the commission would be able to tell if companies are dipping in. The commission also sends inspectors out into the field to do random spot checks. Obleski said when SRBC staff visited the water sources during a 2010 moratorium, they found, “they found 100 percent compliance” by the energy companies.