Susquehanna River too low for drilling withdrawals; Klaber comments irrelevant
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is doing something right: stopping Marcellus Shale gas drillers from making water withdrawals for fracking right now, to protect the Susquehanna River from unconventional gas drilling’s high-volume water requirements. Read all about it thanks to Don Gilliland’s reporting in the Harrisburg Patriot News, “SRBC Suspends Water Withdrawal Permits for Drilling Due to Low Stream Flows.”
The horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing process used to get gas out of the shale requires an average of 4 million gallons of water per well.
Permits for withdrawal are predicated on there being sufficient water that the withdrawals don’t hurt the stream.
“The Commission does not wait for drought declarations or phone calls from citizens to temporarily halt water withdrawals,” said SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz. “Our system is based on science and kicks in well before streams drop to critical low levels.”
If you write the SRBC to congratulate them on their good judgment, you might also want to ask them why there has been no cumulative impact analysis regarding this high-impact extraction.
Just doing his job as a reporter, Gilliland included the obligatory cheerful comment by Marcellus Shale Coalition president Kathryn Klaber, “Our industry continues to recycle and reuse an ever-increasing portion of water required to produce clean-burning, American natural gas…”
Ms. Klaber appears to be unaware that the “clean-burning” myth has been busted by a series of studies looking at the impacts of unconventional gas extraction (fracking) on air and climate. She also emphasizes that the gas is “American” even though permits already pending would, if approved, export 13.9% of America’s annual natural gas production overseas, according to an analysis by the Tribune-Review last month.
All that aside, Ms. Klaber’s comment about “recycling” is also misleading. The total consumptive water use by this industry is, actually, relentlessly increasing. Only the 30% or so of toxic wastewater which returns to the surface may be potentially reused, not the 70% which never returns (they hope) at all. Flowback comes back to the surface about six times saltier than the ocean; radioactive; laden with volatile organic chemicals from the shale layer including benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene; carrying arsenic, barium, strontium AND the original fracking chemicals. That’s what makes it impossible to adequately treat.
The great majority of the toxic wastewater stays underground, which makes this industry’s water use “consumptive” as it clearly states on the sign posted at every fracking well in PA. Clean, fresh water leaves the ecosystem permanently.
Ian Urbina reported that the fracking industry’s “recycling” actually refers to a small proportion of even the water that does return to the surface as flowback. And my time in the field has confirmed that the pipes the industry uses for recycling break easily, leading to spills of toxic flowback on farmland as miles of this cheap piping move the wastewater from site to site.