Thursday, May 19, 2011

Push Back on "America's Most Endangered Rivers"

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) , the body charged with overall management of the Susquehanna River is taking issue American Rivers characterization of the Susquehanna as America's #1 threatened river.

The Executive Director of  SRBC issued a four page "Commentary" on the American Rivers declaration:
SRBC wholeheartedly disagrees with American Rivers’ call for us to impose a moratorium on water withdrawal and use approvals for hydrofracing. Many in the public who oppose or are very wary of this practice believe the overriding concern relates to the potential impacts to water quality, which falls outside of SRBC’s regulatory responsibilities. We believe the decision whether to impose a moratorium falls squarely within the discretion of SRBC’s member states.
American Rivers was hoping a Commission over the whole river basin would ban the use of fracking, hoping to bypass the fact that individual states would like to have some say as to how energy is developed within their own borders  (not to mention the potential jobs and revenue).  You could interpret this as merely grudging acknowledgment of the rights of states to carry out most of the regulation of water use in the state, but the commentary goes on to chide American Rivers for attempting to mislead the public about the potential impact of fracking in the basin:
Among the statements and assertions made by American Rivers, there are several technical and misleading inaccuracies that must be corrected. First, American Rivers indicates that about 1.5 times the annual flow of the Susquehanna River will be used to sustain natural gas drilling. This is misleading because it implies an ongoing extreme demand for water that in reality will be drawn out over the course of 2 to 3 decades. Further, the estimate includes water needs for wells drilled outside the basin that will not rely on basin water. The Susquehanna River supplies the Chesapeake Bay on average 18 million gallons of freshwater inflows every minute of the day. The effects of withdrawals from the northern reaches of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries will not diminish this quantity going to the bay. SRBC staff estimates that the maximum need for water at the height of drilling will be 30 million gallons per day, or less than two minutes worth of the average flow of the river. Further, considering the lowest flows ever recorded in the lower Susquehanna River, the maximum use for drilling is expected to consume less than 3 percent of the flow to the bay during an extreme drought.

Second, in that related sentence about the Susquehanna River, American Rivers points to the potential for 400,000 wells across the Marcellus Shale. This could lead readers to believe the 400,000 wells relates to the Susquehanna basin only, which is clearly not the case. No industry or governmental estimate comes close to indicating that many wells for the Susquehanna basin. American Rivers should have indicated it meant the entire Marcellus Shale region, which includes portions of West Virginia, Ohio, and portions of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York not located within the Susquehanna basin.
I really dislike it when people try to mislead others using numbers they don't readily understand.  Three million gallons sounds like a lot, but on the scale of river the size of the Susquehanna, it's really a pittance.

 Of course, American Rivers is probably not so much concerned (or allegedly concerned) with the amount of water that will be withdrawn, but rather more what will be done with the water and will it lead to pollution.

While we do not regulate water quality, SRBC has been a leader in water quality monitoring for more than 25 years. Good monitoring consists of using approved methodologies, collecting and carefully recording and analyzing data, following protocols for quality assurance and quality control, coming to proper conclusions based on sound science and then releasing the findings to agencies, policy makers and the public.

As a federal-interstate watershed agency, we are uniquely qualified to conduct monitoring programs without regard to political boundaries. While we are routinely involved in a variety of monitoring programs, I draw your attention to our newest monitoring program, the Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network that continuously records and feeds water quality data to SRBC. To date, SRBC has installed nearly 40 monitoring stations in northern tier Pennsylvania where natural gas drilling is most active and southern tier New York to collect pre-drilling baseline data.
 American Rivers would have you believe that nobody is monitoring the water quality of the river, and that pollution from the fracking will sneak up without anyone knowing or recognizing it. Unlikely.

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