Aqua America’s Unquenchable Thirst

Major Withdrawals, Major Impact

[UPDATE, April 19, 2012]:  Drought has come early…. Stateimpact.PA reports: SRBC Suspends Water Withdrawal in 5 Counties and Susquehanna River and Its Tributaries Hit Drought Levels by Donald Gilliland in The Patriot-News.

Marcellus effect: SRBC Temporarily Suspends Water Withdrawals

[Original Post]:  Once fresh water is used for fracking, it can never be safely returned to the watershed. You simply can’t filter out heavy metals and radioactive isotopes like Radon 226. The only thing the water is good for is more fracking. Permanently removing many millions of gallons of fresh water from the Susquehanna and Delaware River basins will leave our region more vulnerable to drought. Small streams, the water tables they inform, and the many private wells which rely on them, will dry up that much faster. Depleted water tables may also contain heavier concentrations of naturally occurring substances already present.

Fracking in a watershed has been typically followed by greater methane concentrations in groundwater overall, including water supplies downstream. Apparently, shallow methane in the Marcellus likes to migrate when disturbed, like say by the seismic activity of unconventional gas drilling, or the drilling itself, or the actual fracturing. As a result, more methane will accumulate and pass through PA’s mostly privately-owned water treatment facilities downstream. This, in turn, will lead more companies to switch to Chloramine for disinfection, in order to avoid creating carcinogenic disinfection bi-products, though Chloramine is known to be far more toxic than Chlorine. Currently, chlorine is used in all but four of Aqua America’s facilities, according to David Templeton in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Shale Gas Drillers: A Customer Aqua Can’t Afford to Pass Up
Shale gas development creates a potential multi-billion dollar market for water supply and treatment services, the prospect of which could be encouraging some large investor-owned water utilities to support shale gas and downplay its water risks. Certain water companies suggest that with regulation, shale gas drilling poses no real threat to water quality. The companies’ financial interest in the shale market, however, casts doubt on the reliability of that assessment. For the private water industry, shale gas development presents an opportunity because of — not despite — its water problems.”     ~ The Private Industry’s Stake in Shale Gas Development, Fact Sheet posted by Food & Water Watch, November, 2011.

The 2011 Food and Water Watch report is an eye-opener. It explains how running a private water utility such as Aqua America or American Water is complex and expensive work. Thirsty, too. “Water contamination can necessitate and justify costly treatment plant upgrades that boost corporate returns. Because of how they are regulated, investor-owned water utilities increase their profits by investing in infrastructure and by raising rates.
It’s distressing to know that Aqua America Chairman Nicholas DiBenedicitis takes a vigorously pro-gas view when it comes to peddling the fresh water resources of the Susquehanna and Delaware River Basins. Because it’s more profitable to supply water to gas drillers than it is to treat it and deliver it to consumers in individual households, the plan to quench Aqua’s corporate thirst for profit already includes a huge guzzle for the gas industry. My fear is that DeBenedictis & Co. would severely drain these invaluable freshwater basins, and exactly when they are most in need of recharging.

We’re looking at probably the biggest thing to happen to Pennsylvania in the past 30 years, which is the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale,” DeBenedictis said in an interview in SmartMoney in August, 2011.
Distilling the facts on Aqua America’s vested interest in the Gas Industry, the Food and Water Watch report fact sheet states:

  • Aqua America is an associate member of largest, most vocal gas industry lobby group, The Marcellus Shale Coalition.
  • Aqua co-sponsored the industry trade conference, Shale Gas Insight in 2011.
  • Aqua America executives have also spoken in favor of shale gas drilling before the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee and the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

The report goes on to conclude: “Because of the financial ties between the private water utility and gas drilling industries, public officials should be wary of relying on private water companies to assess hydraulic fracturing’s effects on water supplies. Unregulated sales of water from investor-owned utilities to gas drillers also merit public scrutiny.

I agree!

On April 10, 2012 it was announced that Penn Virginia Resources (PVR), a Radnor-based Aqua America subsidiary – the same entity who is currently evicting 32 Riverdale families – bought gas pipeline giant Chief Gathering for a billion dollars. A billion dollars.

My understanding is that PVR will control the Utility Rights of Way, which they will also use for water withdrawal pipelines. Read more in: PVR-Partners Announces $1 Billion Acquisition of Marcellus Shale Midstream Pipeline Systems From Chief posted on, April 10, 2012.

“No Evictions for Fracking”

Noon Press Conference & 6pm VIGIL

When: April 18, 2012
Where: Outside Aqua America: 726 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
Wear: Blue

Organized by Protecting Our Waters and an informal coalition of pro-earth, people-over-profits groups galvanized to action by Aqua/PVR’s eviction of the Riverdale neighborhood in Jersey Shore, PA, including: No Evictions for Fracking” was organized by Protecting Our Waters, and co-sponsored by: Berks Gas Truth, Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Elk CARES, Food & Water Watch, Fracking Truth Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, Gas Truth of Central PA, Groundswell PA, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition, KeepTapWaterSafe, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Marcellus Protest, New York Residents Against Drilling, Pennsylvanians for Clean Land, Air and Water (PACLAW), and StopFrackingPA!

Groups Demanding: Justice for Families Facing Eviction; No Fracking Evictions! Moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing.


Not So Fast Natural Gas!
Given the precipitousness of global water supplies, and the fact that Governor Tom Corbett is having a super-sized, unrequited love affair with Gas Drillers, a Moratorium on New Marcellus Permits only makes sense.

Read and/or sign the Pennsylvanians for Land, Air and Water [CLAW] PETITION here.

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