Is the Susquehanna River Basin Commission protecting our water?

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) should review its comprehensive plan to include a new basin-wide study of impacts to water resources arising from shale gas development.

Under its Susquehanna River Basin Compact (which includes the states of Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, as well as the federal government), the SRBC is tasked with conserving water quantity and quality through effective planning. However, in the context of shale gas drilling – an intensive industrial process with far-reaching direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on water resources – the SRBC has not taken the initiative to comprehensively study and regulate projects. Instead, the SRBC has taken to considering each shale gas project with its attendant water withdrawals and transfers on a permit-by-permit basis. This approach allows unlimited gas development while ignoring impacts on water resources of the Basin as a whole.

One water withdrawal permit for several million gallons may individually pose minor adverse quantity or quality impacts, but the potential for thousands of such withdrawals together can have cumulatively significant adverse impacts, especially over time.  Billions of gallons of water are being moved across the Susquehanna basin.  As a result, American Rivers has listed the Susquehanna River the most endangered river in the nation in 2011.

Environmental organizations in the basin have requested that the SRBC first develop a comprehensive management mechanism for shale gas drilling before granting approvals furthering shale gas development. This is particularly important due to New York and Maryland’s ongoing review of the impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.  Until this process is complete, neither New York nor Maryland will have made a determination whether or how to pursue shale gas development.  For more information, go to:


Barbara Benson, PA Chapter Water Co-Chair

Published 2013