The hydraulic fracturing that occurs during the natural gas extraction process requires large volumes of water mixed with thousands of pounds of chemicals. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which regulates water withdrawals, considers all fresh water used in fracking to be consumptive (lost to the system). Actual water use from the entire natural gas industry, at full build-out for fracking, is estimated to be about 30 million gallons per day, according to the commission.
A bill in the Pennsylvania Senate, SB 411, amending the Environmental Good Samaritan Act, would encourage the use of Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) in hydraulic fracturing by exempting the gas industry from liability if spills, accidents or other damages occur while using, transporting or storing AMD for this and other “beneficial uses.”
AMD is one of mining’s most serious threats to water. It is the outflow of sometimes acidic water that contains elevated levels of potentially toxic metals. AMD can devastate rivers, streams and aquatic life for hundreds of years.
While SB411 might temporarily reduce the flow of some sources of AMD into some waterways, it doesn’t stop or solve the problem of AMD.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, a leading environmental nonprofit organization with more than 20 years of expertise in AMD remediation, opposes SB 411. Robert E. Hughes, executive director of the coalition and a Wyoming Valley native, notes: “The impacts that the reduction of AMD could have on the land above these pools need to be taken into consideration due to the potential for additional mine subsidence, discharges migrating to new locations, contamination of existing public water supplies, mine water being backed up and or dammed underground that could lead to upstream or adjacent flooding issues or the creation of new AMD discharges in other parts of the mining impacted watersheds.”
Mr. Hughes further asserts: “EPCAMR is concerned that SB 411 would incentivize the spread of AMD-polluted water to other streams and watersheds in Pennsylvania that currently don’t have pollution problems that are related to AMD.”
The result of extensive withdrawals could be costly for homeowners whose water supply or water quality is impacted because the bill’s provisions would force those homeowners to hire expensive expert analysis to prove that the water withdrawal company damaged their water supply.
Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution asserts the rights of its citizens to a clean and healthy environment. The recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision regarding Act 13 made clear the obligation of the General Assembly to perform environmental impact analyses, in advance of acting, and to take seriously the outcome of those analyses when it enacts legislation that affects the environmental rights of its citizens.
The General Assembly should table SB 411 pending the conclusion of an independent environmental assessment.
SB 411 is good for the natural gas industry, but it is not good for Pennsylvania.