Contact: Cathy Pedler – (814) 454-7523
Bill Belitskus – (814) 778-5173
Ryan Talbott – (503) 887-7845
Department of Environmental Protection Unlawfully Permitting Water Withdrawals For Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling in Western Pennsylvania Only riparian owners can make use of water in streams and rivers
Natural gas companies have descended on Pennsylvania’s forests and farmlands to drill into the Marcellus Shale. Each Marcellus Shale gas well requires millions of gallons of water for the drilling process. That water is taken from Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers under the alleged authority of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP, however, does not have the authority to permit water withdrawals in Pennsylvania.
In central and eastern Pennsylvania, water withdrawals are managed by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Delaware River Basin Commission. Congress created the two commissions as federal-interstate compacts with the authority to permit water withdrawals within their respective basins. The rest of Pennsylvania, most of which is in the Ohio River basin, is governed by riparian rights common law, which allows only the owner of property along a watercourse to withdraw water for use on their land. There is no state law regulating water withdrawals other than for municipal drinking water supplies.
In a letter sent to DEP Secretary John Hanger, the Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) outlined the current state of Pennsylvania law regarding water withdrawals and charged the DEP with operating an unauthorized water withdrawal program that allows natural gas companies to take water that they have no legal right to for their Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations.
“The fact is, the DEP has absolutely no authority to permit water withdrawals in Pennsylvania,” said Cathy Pedler, ADP’s forest watch coordinator. “Outside of the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds, water withdrawals are governed by riparian rights common law, which means only those who live adjacent to the water can make reasonable use of the water on their land. A gas company cannot take water that flows through property it does not own.”
Nevertheless, documents obtained by ADP reveal that the DEP is unlawfully authorizing water withdrawals from western Pennsylvania streams and rivers. On March 31, 2010 the DEP approved a Water Management Plan for Hanley & Bird, Inc. The Water Management Plan allows Hanley & Bird to withdraw 1.44 million gallons of water a day from the Redbank Creek in Jefferson County for five years.
Under the Water Resources Planning Act of 2002, the DEP is required to develop Water Management Plans for the entire state. That law, however, does not provide any authority to the DEP to authorize water withdrawals.
“The Water Resources Planning Act is just that, a planning act,” said Bill Belitskus, ADP’s board president. “That law provided no substantive authority to the DEP to regulate or permit water withdrawals from Pennsylvania’s surface waters. Each time the DEP approves a water management plan and tells a natural gas company that it can withdraw surface water for their drilling procedures, it is acting without authority and encouraging illegal conduct.”
Visit ADP’s website to see the documents we obtained from recent file reviews at the DEP’s Northwest Regional Office: http://alleghenydefenseproject.wikispaces.com/Marcellus+Shale