Environment
7:00 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Drought Conditions Stall Water Withdrawals for Fracking

Record low water levels in the Susquehanna River Basin have forced a halt to water removal by natural gas drilling companies.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses a mixture of water and chemicals shot deep into the ground with massive force to fracture rock shale and release the natural gas contained inside. According to a report from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), the drought conditions of this spring have temporarily suspended 17 different water withdrawals, impacting 10 drilling companies in Bradford, Luzerne, Lycoming, Susquehanna and Tioga Counties.

Susan Obleski, director of communications for the SRBC, said the water withdrawal suspensions shouldn't impact drilling operations at this point.

"The companies have known all along that they really needed to diversify their water supply sources, so these individual withdraws at this point are not having an impact on production and we don't anticipate that they would because they have diversified," she said.

Obleski said most companies attempt to pull water from many different sources to prevent low water levels from inhibiting extraction. She said the most common sources apart from rivers and streams in other areas of the state include permission to draw from public water supply systems or recycling acid mine drainage.

She admitted it's an abnormal time of the year to be concerned about water levels, but little snowfall this winter and rain this spring have dropped the main branch of the Susquehanna River to some of the lowest levels it has had since record-keeping started at the beginning of the last century.

"April obviously is normally the wettest time of the year. We haven't been getting the rainfall, so we are concerned about not only the stream flow levels but groundwater levels in many parts of the state, especially northeast Pennsylvania," Obleski said.

She said it's not too early for the general public to consider water conservation practices, because predicting a consistent rainfall period is not guaranteed and drought levels could continue into the summer.