Recently the Susquehanna River Basin Commission reported that the water use for drilling and hydraulic fracturing has had a “Minor Impact” on the resources of the Susquehanna River Basin. We need to serious questions what is a “minor” impact.
The same report says that the drilling companies have used an average of 6,700,000 gallons of water per day every day for more than five years, more than 13 billion gallons. This is 13 billion gallons of water that belongs to all the people of Pennsylvania that is being used to make a tremendous profit for a few corporations. It is first contaminated with chemicals, then pumped at high pressure into the ground, breaking up the rock a mile or more below the surface. Some of this water comes back up, but it is now so completely contaminated that it is a hazardous waste product.
A few days after reading that report I looked at the United States Geological Survey website to find the streamflow of the Susquehanna just below Williamsport. The flow of the river is measured in Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) but it easily converts to Gallons per minute. On Monday after the rainy first week of May the flow was 516,157 gallons per minute, but most weeks are not that rainy and the flow is even lower. Even after a week of rain, the gas drilling industry is using enough water every day to dry up the river for almost 13 minutes! Making a river run dry for 13 (or more) minutes every day is NOT a “minor impact!”
Of course all of that water is not taken from a single place at a single time, so those of us who live downstream don't notice the problem. The water is mostly taken from six smaller watersheds, not evenly divided among all the smaller streams that feed the Susquehanna. While we may not notice the difference in the river below Williamsport, it is a very large difference in those six streams where more than 70% of the water is withdrawn.
So far, we here in Pennsylvania have been safe from the problems of water that have afflicted other parts of the country and the world.. We have been blessed with a climate that gives us a lot of rain, plenty of springs and many beautifully flowing streams and rivers. The way of life in Pennsylvania has been built on that water – agriculture, recreation, hunting and fishing are multimillion dollar businesses here, providing income for hundreds of businesses, large and small, and providing long-term jobs for thousands of employees. The rest of the country and the world have not been so lucky.
The wars of the 20th century were fought over land and oil. The wars of the 21st are going to be fought over water. Already large government-owned corporations from Saudi Arabia are growing food on irrigated land in the US to send back to Saudi Arabia. Already large areas of the Southwestern part of the US suffer from a seriously depleted water table that will take centuries to replenish. Wells that pumped water for more than one hundred years are now not deep enough to reach the water level. In the American Southwest states vie with one another over the rights to pump a certain quantity of water from above-ground rivers and underground aquifers. Court battles are common as people struggle to find enough water. Many communities have had to ration water, or have had their pipes go dry entirely because there is not enough water to go around. This pumping and contaminating of our water for the profit of a few corporations is a threat to our way of life.
Do you believe pumping 6,700,000 gallons a day of the Susquehanna river into the ground to come back contaminated is a “minor impact?” If not, speak with your neighbors about what is happening, write letters to the editor, and perhaps most importantly, write to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (4423 N Front St, Harrisburg, PA 17110) and let them know what you think.