Regulators say fracking not as dangerous to water quality as thought

Two US state-level regulators of water use and environmental issues on Tuesday suggested that concerns about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water quality and supplies are overblown.

Scott Perry, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, said he hears a lot of public discussion about fracking and the potential threat it poses to groundwater.

Yet after a "million experiments across the county," and doing his own research into the subject, "I've yet to see a single impact of fracking actually directly communicating with fresh groundwater resources," Perry told the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners in Hershey, Pennsylvania. "Again and again and again, I never see a single incidence of fracking causing this direct communication that we keep hearing about."

Instead, environmental issues are more likely to arise during site and well construction and during a company's wastewater management, he said.
To ensure that the discharge waters, which typically have a high salt concentration, do not damage local water ecosystems, the DEP has changed its regulations to require that all discharges to waterways must be of drinking-water quality. "That was a tough call to make," Perry said, because many developers were planning on disposing of water based on the prior and less restrictive rules.

"The amount of water being reported to be used by this industry is out of whack," said Jim Richenderfer, Susquehanna River Basin Commission's director of technical programs. The commission is a water management agency that coordinates the use of the Susquehanna River Watershed in three states.

"The amount of water being consumed by the gas industry is really not that much" when compared to other areas of use, he said.

On average, the Susquehanna River sends to the bay 26 billion gal/day, Richenderfer said. Non-gas energy production resources use about 190 million gal/d, and recreation -- comprised mostly of gulf courses and ski resorts -- use about 50 million gal/d. Yet at its peak use, natural gas play is expected to use up to 30 million, he said. Right now, gas production uses between 4 million and 5 million gal/d.

To ensure water supplies are not depleted because of fracking, the river commission imposes water level limits on projects, he said.

"So when Mother Nature gives us a drought and the water level in the stream from which the withdrawal is being made drops down to a certain trigger level, the industry has to cease withdrawal. They cannot begin to pull more water until the flows in that stream rise above that level and stayed above it for 48 hours."
 
To view the actual article on Platts' website, fracking.
Esther Whieldon
Author: Esther Whieldon
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