Drought comes to Marcellus

Posted on July 19, 2011 

SRBC shuts valve on water withdrawals

Low levels in streams and rivers have caused the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to temporarily suspend water withdrawals from 36 separate sites.


None of those locations are in Centre County, though the SRBC does have several withdrawal sites permitted within its confines (you can see a complete interactive map of withdrawal sites across the region at http://gis.srbc.net/WRPMap/).


Gas companies use millions of gallons of water in hydrofracking, the process by which they retrieve gas from the tight Marcellus Shale formation.


According to SRBC restrictions, water levels must rise above protected levels for at least 48 hours before the organization gives the go-ahead for resumption of water withdrawal.


Interestingly, while the U.S. Geological Survey, which runs the gauges used by the SRBC to monitor stream flow, has declared some counties in Pennsylvania to be on drought watch or warning, the DEP has all counties’ drought declaration status as normal.


Last summer, the SRBC came under criticism from some environmental groups for waiting too long to suspend water withdrawals as the region came under a drought watch. This action might be an attempt to address concerns the organization has been too accommodating of the natural gas industry.


According to SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz, "The Commission does not wait for drought declarations or phone calls from citizens to temporarily halt water withdrawals.  Our system is based on science and kicks in well before streams drop to critical low levels.  We base our surface and groundwater withdrawal approvals on conservative assumptions regarding hydrologic conditions."


No word yet from drillers as to how this will affect their operations.



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