Despite drought conditions in parts of Bowmans and Tunkhannock Creeks, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission said Friday there was no cause for alarm that at two locations, significant water withdrawals are continuing to support the gas drilling industry.
SRBC inspectors were at an Eaton Township site about a mile south of Tunkhannock on Friday.
They were making sure the operation was not exceeding the limits for water removal.
SRBC environmental scientists Jeremy Hoffman and Jeremy Brooks drove in from the SRBC’s regional office in Sayre Friday to check out a rash of complaints about too much water being taken out of Bowmans Creek.
But Hoffman said a hauler – Somerset Regional Water Resources – was actually in compliance.
He acknowledged, however, there were other sites where haulers are not allowed to take water out because of ‘pass-by’ restrictions.
“It all depends on how much water is in the stream, and how much they’ve asked to withdraw,” Hoffman said.
SRBC deputy director Jim Richenderfer explained that for some water haulers, when the creek level drops to a certain level at a specific location because of a drought, they must cease operating.
Using a Q-7-10 formula which looks at the lowest 7-day flow rate over the past 10 years, the SRBC has determined by geographical location the volume of water it will allow a potential customer trying to serve the hydrofracturing appetites of gas drillers.
But at an Eaton Township site where Somerset uses up to 60 trucks a day to withdraw up to 290,000 gallons of Bowmans Creek, the SRBC said all was okay in that site’s support of gas drilling activity by Cabot in Susquehanna County.
Hoffman said the site did not qualify to have a ‘pass-by,’ because the SRBC believes the amount of water being taken from it would not adversely affect the creek.
Brooks explained that SRBC officials make regular inspections of the meters at each site to ensure that they are in compliance. They also check the company’s logs to determine withdrawal rates as well.
According to the inspectors, the SRBC is very concerned about gas drilling operations affecting the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.
“Especially when you’re dealing with a very pristine stream like this, the judgment to allow these things is not taken lightly,” Brooks said.
However, Hoffman added that it is not the agency’s mission to shut the operations down if they are operating properly.
“When the water’s there, we’re going to let them take it,” he said.
Eaton Township Supervisor Paul Rowker accompanied the inspectors as they checked the site. He said he was satisfied with their assessment.
“We’re just looking to make sure everything is operating properly,” Rowker said.
Reichenderfer noted that about one-half mile up Bowmans Creek from where Somerset was withdrawing water, a ‘pass-by’ is in effect for Randy Wiernusz, because there just wasn’t any water at that location.
He noted that Wiernsuz had withdrawn water briefly “to test his equipment” but never actively pumped it.
Up Tunkhannock Creek Reichenderfer also noted that a ‘pass-by’ restriction remained for Mountain Energy to take water out near Deer Park Lumber in support of Exco-North Coast’s drilling activity.
Other sites in support of Exco restricted by a ‘pass-by,’ Reichenderfer said, were on the creek’s East Branch in Clifford Township, Susquehanna County, and on the creek’s South Branch in Benton Township, Lackawanna County.
He said that two operations by Southwestern Energy on Tunkhannock Creek were in ‘pass-by’ status as well but both projects were really on hold.
The only Tunkhannock Creek withdrawal presently allowed was a site in Lenox Township, Susquehanna County, where Cabot is allowed to extract up to 980,000 gallons of water a day.
Reichenderfer said that every day, all docketed companies not in ‘pass-by’ status have to look at a reference gauge that points out present flow rates and if they meet that they can take water.
“We’re pretty certain it’s working,” Reichenderfer said. “All haulers are complying with their conditions, and those are the environmental safeguards we want to keep in place.”
Robert Baker also contributed to this story.