Rainfall Shortage in PA: Bad for Farmers, Good for Anti-Frackers

When it comes to slowing down fracking operations, should we now pray for drought? That’s one of the perverse conclusions one could reach after seeing the news that low stream flows have forced Pennsylvania officials to suspend water usage in parts of the state for natural gas development which utilizes the hydraulic fracking extraction method.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission last week said that 17 separate water withdrawals approved by SRBC “are temporarily suspended due to localized stream flow levels dropping throughout the Susquehanna basin.”

A lack of snowfall this winter coupled with a lack of rain this spring are the major causes for the abnormally low stream flows, low ground water levels and depleted soil moisture, according to the agency. As a result, SRBC executive director Paul Swartz said water withdrawals affecting 10 companies in five Pennsylvania counties have been temporarily suspended. “The majority of those suspended withdrawals are related to water for natural gas development.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says Pennsylvania ranks 15th in the nation among natural gas producing states.

Natural gas and water transfer/frac support companies affected by the SRBC restrictions include:

  • Chesapeake Energy
  • Talisman Energy
  • Tennessee Gas Pipeline
  • EXCO Resources
  • XTO Energy
  • Keystone Clearwater Solutions
  • Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc.

Under SRBC’s pass-by flow restrictions, when streams drop to predetermined protected low flow levels, project sponsors who are required to meet the agency’s pass-by 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 project sponsors monitor real-time stream flow data generated by stream gauges maintained and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

It’s not clear how long the suspensions will last because it depends on the weather. If rainfall shortages continue, the SRBC anticipates that more water withdrawals will be suspended.

We are really in and odd space and time when Mother Nature has to step into the fracking issue.

[Image credit: Triple_Divide_Oil_Gas_Pipeline by The Public Herald via Flickr CC]

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