LOCK HAVEN - A company drilling for natural gas wants to pump up to four million gallons of water - on any given day - from creeks, streams and lakes in Clinton, Lycoming and Centre counties, according to a public notice posted in all three of those counties.
The purpose of the withdrawals is to supply the water needs for drilling and hydro-fracing natural gas wells.
The company, Anadarko E&P Co. LP, has filed an application with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission for six surface water withdrawal approvals.
In Clinton County, Anadarko is requesting SRBC two withdrawal points in Chapman Township and Renovo.
In Centre county, withdrawal is sought in Liberty and Burnside townships, and in Lycoming County, Cummings and Nippenose Township.
The water would be obtained from Foster Joseph Sayers Lake on Bald Eagle Creek, from Pine Creek and at four different points along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and would be trucked to Anadarko's permitted well sites, which are located throughout the three counties.
The application comes after the Susquehanna River Basin Commission recently "streamlined" the approval process for consumptive use of water on Jan. 1 because of the high number of applications.
"The Commission acted quickly and decisively to address the unanticipated and pressing demand for water in 2008 from the natural gas industry," said SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz in a press release issued for the occasion.
Swartz said the regulatory amendments will allow the SRBC to respond "in an orderly fashion as we fulfill our dual mission to protect the basin's vital water resources and support economic development opportunities."
"Among streamlining provisions in the amended regulations, all requests for consumptive water use by the national gas industry will now be handled through SRBC's simplified approval-by-rule process (commonly known as a general permit)," Swartz said. "To make this change possible, SRBC likewise expanded the sources of water that applicants can consider for their consumptive water use, including public water supplies, discharges from wastewater treatment facilities and other reclaimed waters, and withdrawals from other sources approved separately by SRBC."
Water is considered consumptively used when it is withdrawn from the Susquehanna River Basin but not returned to the basin. Drilling wells for natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale and other formations in the Susquehanna basin involves large volumes of water being injected underground, making it not reasonably available for future use.
The impact of drilling, drawing of water from the Susquehanna - and how any waste water from drilling operations would be treated - hasn't been outlined.
Just last November, Dan Vilello, community revitalization consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, addressed members of the Clinton County Economic Partnership on the impact the natural gas drilling
Vilello noted natural gas wells permitted in Clinton County increased from 14 in 2006 to 40 last year, with 35 permitted so far this year. Statewide, he said, 6,000 well permits have been issued, most in the western and central parts of the state, with another 2,000 expected by the end of the year.
Drilling companies have complained that DEP is holding up the process.
But Vilello said a drilling company must walk its way through a process that insures a level of protection, including a drilling permit, an erosion and sediment control plan, a water management plan and approval from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
More than 72 percent of the tri-state Susquehanna watershed, covering portions of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, are underlain by the Marcellus and other organic-rich shale formations.
Advancements in technology for capturing natural gas in those shale formations require operators to inject large amounts of water under pressure several thousand feet underground to fracture the formation to stimulate the flow of gas.
SRBC is the governing agency established under a 100-year compact signed in 1970 by the federal government and the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland to protect and manage the water resources of the Susquehanna River Basin.
Andarko has approximately 300,000 leased acres in the basin area, mostly in Central Pennsylvania.
The deep gas-bearing rock layer called the Marcellus Shale has been in the news for more than a year for its potential to spur an economic boon, but some experts have also mentioned potential headaches as they seek to keep intact the region's natural resources. A big hurdle is the treatment of salty wastewater from drilling operations and there are few plants certified to treat it. The saltiness of the wastewater would ultimately shut a normal sewage treatment plant down, he said.
The Marcellus layer has a rich potential for natural gas production, but the drilling process requires a huge amount of water. The water is injected into the rock during the drilling, and picks up chemicals in the ground as a part of that process. Treatment of the waste water is expensive.
Those interested in the Anadarko water-withdrawal application may submit comments or questions to Paula Ballaron, regulatory program director, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, 1721 N. Front St., Harrisburg, PA 17102-2391. E-mails may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.