Hydrogeologist: Wells won’t go dry if water withdrawal center opens

Well water surrounding a proposed water withdrawal site in Old Lycoming Township will not be adversely impacted now or in the future, experts said Wednesday night.

About 35 Old Lycoming Township residents turned out for the fifth meeting of a public hearing focusing on whether a water withdrawal site for the natural gas industry should be allowed at 3231 Lycoming Creek Road.

At the end of the series of meetings, the supervisors, based on testimony provided, will approve, approve with conditions or deny with good cause water withdrawal for the Marcellus Operations Center at this particular site.

The message at the meeting, which was a quasi-judicial meeting with lawyers in tow, was the Susquehanna River Basin Commission’s permit to allow water withdrawal from a permitted well at the site for up to 250,000 gallons of water a day on a monthly average will not adversely impact the future quantity or quality of water in the basin now or in the future, according to hydrogeologist Doug Cwienk, of GeoServices Ltd.

The commission’s permit was approved Dec. 14, 2012.

Centura Development Co. Inc., of 1000 Commerce Park Drive, which hired a project engineer to design the four-acre site plan – the water withdrawal area is 1.35 acres – was represented by attorney Kurt Williams. Williams questioned Cwienk extensively about the SRBC’s permit.

According to Cwienk, who helped develop data for the permit, two wells are on site – one permitted for water withdrawal and the other for potable water use for the existing building on site and, if necessary, to top off a pond reserved for fire suppression.

To Cwienk’s understanding, the pond has not needed to be filled for some years.

Residents who had testified earlier in the evening asked if the non-permitted well’s water would be used without being monitored. Cwienk answered it was not permissible for water from that well to be used for natural gas or petroleum development. Further, the permitted well is metered and the trucks used to transport the water are also metered. That data goes back to the SRBC, which reviews it to ensure level accuracy.

“The SRBC knows what is taken out and what is sold” water-wise, Cwienk said.

Other residents were concerned their wells would be sucked dry due to the water withdrawal.

Cwienk detailed a formula that said, bottom line, there is enough. He took the total amount of water in the basin that can be used and subtracted the existing usage. From that, he subtracted 40 percent to account for drought conditions, which is 90 days without rain.

Cwienk initiated a study in which they ran a pumping test to see if they could take water without harming nearby wells. They pumped at full rate for 72 hours at a time period without rain, and projected out those findings to 90 days. They then measured the water level in surrounding wells at an approximate 1,000-foot radius from the site to see if any wells were affected at 6 inches or more.

The SRBC’s limit is 6 to 12 inches. Within that radius, two wells were affected within the 6-inch limit: a residential well near Lycoming Creek and an industrial well at a lumberyard.

Centura Development’s wells and Stroehmann Bakeries’ wells were included in the study and were not affected beyond the 6-inch limit.

The commission found there would be no adverse impacts when instated, and none in the future, Cwienk said.

Centura Development is proposing to use 2/10 of 1 percent of the available water after drought conditions and other uses are accounted for, Cwienk said.

Is there any chance of neighboring wells going dry due to this use, Williams questioned.

“No. There’s more than enough water there, and the SRBC agrees with that,” Cwienk said, adding even if there became a problem, they would know because of the monitoring system, which is checked every 90 days.

If there is a persisting drought, the SRBC maintains the right to limit or stop water withdrawal from its permit holders, Cwienk said.

Ultimately, the commission approved the permit because it saw no scientific basis for problems, Cwienk said.

He noted hydrocarbon development is regulated at gallon one, whereas normal consumptive use starts at 20,000 gallons.

One resident, however, questioned Cwienk’s expertise as Cwienk has overseen about 20 well development plans over the course of his career, with about 12 being SRBC permits. That comes out to about two plans a year, Cwienk confirmed.

“It’s a portion of what I do,” Cwienk told the resident, who asked him if he had more expertise in other areas.

“I have more experience in other (areas) than this,” Cwienk answered.

The well site plans he has completed have been near developed areas such as the proposed one, he told another resident.

Project engineer Todd Colocino said an evacuation plan is in the works in case of a flood or emergency.

Another asked if the site is secure, and Colocino replied there aren’t security measures in place. The resident advised Colocino to put them in place as it’s in a residential area near a bicycle path.

Supervisor Chairman John Eck asked Colocino if the building’s external lighting would cast light beyond the property. Colocino said the lights would be shielded.

The next meeting was moved from July 24 to an unconfirmed date in mid-August.