Panel considers applications to use Susquehanna River water in fracking operations

    The panel that oversees water use in the Susquehanna River Basin is taking comments on the latest round of requests from natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania.

    The companies are hoping to pull water from the basin for fracking purposes.

    Guy Alsentzer, a lawyer with the environmental group Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, says 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,” he said Thursday during a meeting of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

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    The commission says it doesn’t approve projects in a vacuum and the cumulative effect of many individual plans to pull water from the river basin is considered.

    Andrew Dehoff, who manages project review at the commission, 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,” he said.

    Dehoff says 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.

    He adds gas companies apply for multiple, redundant water-withdrawal points, but they end up using a small fraction of those water sources at any one time.

    Commission members also noted that the growing natural gas drilling industry will play a role in revisions to their organization’s long-term plan in coming years.

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