Driller Wants 4 Million Gallons
Company seeks permit to tap water in Centre, nearby counties

Centre County PA Times Daily
6 January 2009
By Mike Joseph - mjoseph@centredaily.com

Less than a week after streamlined regulations took effect, a natural gas driller gave notice Monday that it wants to withdraw up to 4 million gallons of water "in any day" from Centre and two other counties.

The water would be taken from two places in Centre County — from Foster Joseph Sayers Lake in Liberty Township and from Burnside Township, which is partially bounded by the West Branch Susquehanna River — and from four other sources in Clinton and Lycoming counties.

Texas-based Anadarko Exploration & Production Co. told the Susquehanna River Basin Commission that it needs the water for drilling and hydrofracturing natural gas wells, according to a public notice about its application.

The company has about 300,000 net acres under lease in the Appalachian region, mostly in central Pennsylvania, an Anadarko spokesman said.

Pennsylvania has a deep gas-bearing rock layer, the Marcellus Shale, that has a rich potential for natural gas production. It takes 1 million to 3 million gallons of water to “frac” a natural gas well, though procedures differ from region to region.

Anadarko spokesmen said it is still too early to estimate how frequently the company would want to withdraw up to 4 million gallons of water from the six sources.

They said the water-withdrawal application was filed Dec. 29 and would have been filed by year’s end regardless of the basin commission’s newly streamlined regulations.

The commission, the governing agency to protect and manage Susquehanna River water, adopted the new rules last month to simplify the application and approval process for a heavy load of natural gas industry requests to withdraw water from the basin.

The new regulations, which took effect Jan. 1, expand the type of sources the natural gas industry can use to include public water supplies and discharges from wastewater treatment plants.

Sayers Lake is a 1,730-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control impoundment on Bald Eagle Creek 15 miles northeast of State College. It is also the centerpiece of Bald Eagle State Park, which is run by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The lake water is drawn down each fall and winter to create enough room for high water in spring, and it is possible that Anadarko’s withdrawal could coincide with that practice.

“I’m sure we would probably be evaluating that,” basin commission spokeswoman Susan Obleski said Monday.

The DCNR plans a major improvement of the fish habitat at Bald Eagle State Park. Both DCNR and the Corps of Engineers said they had not known of Anadarko’s water-withdrawal application before Monday.

Four million gallons of water is about four-fifths of the amount the State College Borough Water Authority uses every day in the borough, Patton, Ferguson and Harris townships and part of College Township. If a 120-yard football field were turned into a big swimming pool, it would have to be dug 9 feet, 3 inches deep to hold 4 million gallons.

“It’s a lot of water — it’s something to be concerned about,” said Max Gill, executive director of the water authority. “When that water comes out of the ground, it’s contaminated. It has to be captured and disposed of. It can’t just be disposed back to the ground.”

Natural gas drillers add sand and chemicals to water before injecting it in a sort of sandblasting procedure thousands of feet into the ground. While there, the water picks up other chemicals such as magnesium chloride from deep salt formations.

“You inject it into the ground under very high pressure and that cracks the rock and then the sand keeps it open,” Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen said.

The Williamsport Sanitary Authority, which treats sewage, is experimenting with a process to help clean up such “frac water.”

“It’s a very expensive treatment because of the need to get it down to water quality standards,” said Walt Nicholson, the authority’s director of operations.

Retired Centre County Planning Director Bob Donaldson, now a leader in local water quality conservation organizations, said the application to use water for natural gas drilling illustrates the need for effective government oversight.

“These are concerns but they’re balanced by the demand for energy,” he said. “The concern is that they be properly reviewed and permitted.”


Comments or questions about Anadarko's application can be submitted to Paula Ballaron, regulatory program director, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, 1721 N. Front St., Harrisburg, PA 17102- 2391; or by e-mail to pballaron@srbc.net.

Mike Joseph can be reached at 235-3910.