A lack of winter snowfall and a dry spring have led to drought-like conditions in Pennsylvania, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission has responded by temporarily banning water withdrawals at sites in five counties.The new restrictions take effect in Bradford, Luzerne, Lycoming, Susquehanna and Tioga County, and will impact 10 natural gas drilling companies, including Chesapeake, Talisman and XTO.
Hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons of water. In northern Pennsylvania, the SRBC regulates how much water drillers can take out of the river and its tributaries.
Here’s the commission’s press release, announcing the temporary suspension:
“Hydrologic conditions have been on a steady decline for some time following a winter with very little snow and below normal rainfall this spring,” said SRBC executive director Paul Swartz. “As a result of low streamflows in many portions of the basin, 17 individual water withdrawals affecting 10 companies in 5 Pennsylvania counties have been temporarily suspended by virtue of the Commission’s passby flow restrictions. The majority of those suspended withdrawals are related to water for natural gas development.”
Under SRBC’s passby flow restrictions, when streams drop to pre-determined protected low flow levels, project sponsors who are required to meet the agency’s passby requirement must stop taking water. They cannot resume taking water until streams have recovered above the protected level for at least 48 hours.
SRBC and its regulated project sponsors monitor real-time streamflow data generated by stream gages maintained and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Based on unseasonably low streamflow conditions, SRBC’s passby requirements actually began kicking in as early as February 2012 for certain water withdrawals in northern Pennsylvania.
Regulated project sponsors are required to install tamper-proof water meters that automatically record their water withdrawals on a daily basis. SRBC also monitors the USGS gages daily to determine which ones have triggered, and SRBC’s field staff conducts frequent spot-inspections to verify compliance with passby requirements.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Management Deputy Secretary Kelly Heffner said, “The department has been closely monitoring the key hydrologic parameters, including streamflows, groundwater levels, and precipitation deficits as well as soil moisture indexes. Among the protocols that DEP follows is the 90-day trigger of much below normal precipitation.”
Swartz said, “If rainfall shortages persist, the Commission anticipates more water withdrawals being suspended, as was the case in 2010 and 2011. The Commission does not wait for drought declarations to temporarily halt water withdrawals. Our science-based stream protection system kicks in well before streams drop to critical low levels.”
Not all SRBC approvals contain passby restrictions. Those are the withdrawals where the approved withdrawal amounts are so small that they will not affect the protective levels of streams. In those cases, companies can continue to take water during low flow periods.
FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF COMPANIES AND THEIR WATER WITHDRAWAL SOURCES IN PENNSYLVANIA
TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED AS OF APRIL 18, 2012:
Chesapeake Energy: Sugar Creek
Healthy Properties: Sugar Creek
Talisman Energy: Fall Brook at Bense, Seeley Creek at Jones, Sugar Creek at Hoffman, Wappasening Creek at Adriance, unnamed tributary to North Branch Sugar Creek
Tennessee Gas Pipeline: Towanda Creek
Eagle Rock Community Association: Abandoned Quarry associated with unnamed tributary to Tomhicken Creek
EXCO Resources: Muncy Creek at McClintock
Hughesville-Wolf Township Joint Municipal Authority: wastewater from treatment plant
Keystone Clearwater Solutions: Lycoming Creek
XTO Energy: Lick Run, Little Muncy Creek
Carrizo: unnamed tributary to Middle Branch Wyalusing Creek
Keystone Clearwater Solutions: Babb Creek
Tennessee Gas Pipeline: unnamed tributary of North Elk Run