The panel that oversees water use in the Susquehanna River Basin is taking comments on the latest round of requests from natural gas drillers to pull water from the basin for fracking purposes.
Public hearings at the Susquehanna River Basin Commission aren’t two-way affairs. So commissioners were silent as one man voiced his concern at the latest meeting that the natural gas industry’s water withdrawals would deplete streams and endanger wildlife. They might have pointed out a common misperception underlying the man’s testimony.
Andrew Dehoff manages project review at the commission and says the bigger issue isn’t how much water drillers are taking, but where they want to get it.
“When we receive a request to, for a withdrawal of water from a smaller, more sensitive stream, we really have to look at it very closely and put some restrictive conditions on if it can be approved at all,” said Dehoff. He added drillers often want to withdraw water close to where they’re fracking, and the SRBC prefers water to be pulled from less pristine streams or larger water sources.
Moreover, said Dehoff, the gas industry will withdraw much less water than it would appear based on approved water withdrawal permits.
“They seek multiple and redundant withdrawal points so that they have options so that they have different locations close to – closer to – where they need the water,” he said. “But the reality is that they’re not using all those at any one time. They’re using a fraction of them.”
Guy Alsentzer, a lawyer with the environmental group Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, said during his testimony that he thinks the impact of a growing gas drilling industry could be lost on the panel if its focus remains on the evaluation of individual water withdrawal permits.
“Really what I feel is lacking, especially when compared to the regulatory mechanisms in other states, and other interstate compacts in the United States, is the idea of a unified comprehensive plan that is looking at a cumulative impact study,” said Alsentzer.
Officials with the SRBC say the commission doesn’t approve projects in a vacuum, and the cumulative effect of many individual plans to pull water from the river basin is considered. But they note the growing natural gas drilling industry will play a role in revisions to their organization’s long-term plan in coming years.