SRBC – Comprehensive Plan

This week, I thought it be interesting to take a peek at the SRBC Comprehensive Plan. The Plan is revised every five years and has been up for public comment the last couple months.  C.O.G.E.N.T. did submit a comment on the Plan.   Overall, the Plan is good and only a few modifications were suggested.  The Plan covers every detail of water usage in the Susquehanna River Basin along with challenges from all usages and environmental issues.  This revision includes a focus on natural gas drilling that wasn’t in the prior version, simply because exploitation was just beginning.

The gas operators did provide challenges to the Basin in the early days, no doubt about it.  Some of their operations may even be considered reckless.  Such operations were the impetus to new monitoring systems and regulations.

You may have heard that Pennsylvania is home to 85,000 stream miles, and is second in stream miles and water resources only to the state of Alaska.  Taking that into account and the vast size of Alaska, Pennsylvania has a huge amount of water resources to adequately manage.  Our water resources in the Northern Tier are managed through the efforts of both the SRBC and DEP.   So, without further adieu, here are some interesting highlights from the Plan.

  1. The Susquehanna River is the largest river lying entirely in the US that drains into the Atlantic Ocean.  The Susquehanna and it’s hundreds of tributaries constitute more than 49,000 miles of waterways and drains 27,500 square miles.
  2. The river is almost a mile wide at Harrisburg and flows about 20 miles on an average summer day.
  3. The basin is one of the most flood prone areas in the nation, with a major devastating flood occurring every 13 years on average.
  4. Over the past five years, the SRBC  has approved consumptive use of water for hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas at more than 2,000 well pad locations.
  5. There are 23 major electric power generating plants located within the Basin that use water resources in the operation.
  6. Preliminary estimates suggest that the total quantity of water consumption used for hydrofracturing will eventually reach 30 million gallons daily.
  7. Mine drainage, agriculture, and urbanization are leading causes of surface water impairment in the basin, with localized problems resulting from transportation activities, malfunctioning septic systems, and other sources.  Ground water quality issues in portions of the basin include elevated iron, manganese, nitrates, organic, and microbial contaminants.
  8. Specific items in the Project Guidance detail guidelines regarding allocations, available yields,  preservation of long-term natural hydrologic variability of streams, protection of aquatic species, natural communities and habitat and key ecological processes, along with a comprehensive approach for meeting low flow protections; protections for groundwater and stream flow and recognizing the high public value of wild and scenic river reaches, historic areas, headwaters, open space, etc.
  9. The energy sector is the largest consumer of water in the basin – combined for generating power and fuel extraction.
  10. A Plan goal is to increase the presence of compliance staff throughout the basin.
  11. The SRBC has 70 continuous water quality monitoring stations in operation, including several within the Northern Tier Region.
  12. Another Plan goal  is to utilize available technologies to make information readily available through electronic means so folks don’t have to make a trip to the Commission’s headquarters.
  13. Of the basin’s 49,000 stream miles more than 8,400 are impaired, with more than 2,000 f them impaired with AMD acid/abandoned mine drainage.
  14. Power utilities including hydroelectric plants are very intensive users of the basin’s water resources in terms of consumptive use (for cooling water) and when combined with natural gas development account for approximately 70 percent of the total consumptive water use reported within the basin.
  15. The unconventional natural gas industry should make every effort to minimize its reliance on fresh water and increase its reliance on impaired waters and wastewaters during hydraulic fracturing activities.  Efforts should also be made by the industry to reduce the amount of sediment transport to nearby streams in the watersheds within which it operates.
  16. Since unconventional natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale began in the basin, the SRBC has made significant changes to regulations and expanded staff across the board. Unlike any other industry, the natural gas industry requires approval for water withdrawal beginning with gallon “one”.  The SRBC has done outreach to water resource stakeholders and the general public to better inform regarding important regulatory and monitoring work done by the SRBC.
  17. SRBC data supports the conclusion that the unconventional natural gas industry ranks second (10.4 million gallons per day, MGD) as a consumptive water user within the basin behind electric generation (92.7 MGD), with water supply (8.9 MGD) and manufacturing (8.3 MGD) ranked third and fourth, respectively.
  18. As of December 31, 2012 a total of 10,285 MGD of water (10.285 billion gallons) were consumptively used by the unconventional gas industry within the Susquehanna River basin since the Marcellus Shale Play began.  This number represents the total consumptive water use for all the individual gas companies involved in the play (an industry wide total).
  19. While the above number of 10.285 billion gallons may seem to be very large in magnitude, it is in fact relatively small in relation to water available in the Susquehanna River basin.  During an average flow day, the Susquehanna River delivers approximately 40,000 cubic feet per second (26 billion gallons per day) to the Chesapeake Bay.  Consequently, on an average flow day, the River delivers to the Bay in approximately 10 hours the equivalent total amount of water used by the entire unconventional gas industry since the Marcellus Shale play entered the basin more than four years ago.
  20. While this is impressive, the Plan does indicate that there is a difference regarding locations and timing by the natural gas industry.  The industry is primarily developing within relatively small watersheds also, the natural gas industry would prefer to withdraw water at rates higher than the small streams within those small watersheds can tolerate under low flow conditions.
  21. By calendar year 2012, the industry was taking approximately 73 percent of its water from docketed surface water sources and 27 percent from public water systems.  Reliance on groundwater withdrawals for the 2012 calendar year remained below 1 MGD for the industry.
  22. By December 31, 2012, after the Marcellus play had been in progress for more than four years, a total of 1,977 unconventional natural gas wells had been hydraulically fractured within the basin.  On average, each well’s hydraulic fracturing effort consumed 4.5 million gallons of water.  86% of that average amount of water was comprised of freshwater (3.8 million gallons) and 14% (0.6 million gallons) was comprised of reused flowback water from previous fracing events.  The amount of flowback waters that returned to each well-head within the first 30 days after fracing pressures were released ranged from a low of 5 percent to a high of 12 percent (average 528,000 gallons).

This interesting information is taken from the actual Proposed Plan.

One other newsworthy item is that Paul Swartz is retiring  from his post of Executive Director which he has held since 1992.  Mid-September, Andrew D. Dehoff will become the new Executive Director.  Andrew has been with the SRBC since 1995.    We at C.O.G.E.N.T. extend best wishes to Paul with his retirement and congratulations to Andrew as he begins his new role as Executive Director.

Emily Krafjack, President