Residents: Keep drilling discharge out

An article from the Times Leader talks about local residents being opposed to the wastewater treatment facility on the Susquehanna.

By Rory Sweeney rsweeney@timesleader.com

TUNKHANNOCK – Residents attending a public hearing Tuesday were decidedly unconvinced that a purposed facility to treat gas-drilling wastes would protect the Susquehanna River.

“I do believe their intentions are good in that, being local, they’ll do the best job they can,” said Tunkhannock resident Scott Davis. But he questioned where the companies and landowners profiting off the drilling were.

“I don’t see those folks here … and I don’t understand that. … There’s just something wrong about this where the folks who are making so much are just dumping this on the rest of us,” Davis said.

Davis was applauded along with others who voiced the frustration many felt.

Natural-gas companies are spending millions throughout the state to drill gas wells in the Marcellus Shale, a layer of natural gas-laden rock about a mile underground that stretches from New York to Virginia and centers on northern Pennsylvania.

But the economic development comes at an environmental cost that some residents are unwilling to accept, such as contamination to water that’s forced underground to crack the shale and release the gas.

The process is called hydraulic fracturing, and the fluid used, while mostly water, contains hazardous chemicals and lots of salt.

North Branch Processing LLC hopes to build a plant near Skyhaven Airport to clean the “frac” water and discharge it into the river. The hearing, called by the state Department of Environmental Protection, was on a permit for that discharge.

Residents said the water should be reused for “fracing” rather than put into the river.

“I guess you can tell we love the Susquehanna River,” said Larry Darby, a Pittston resident with a family home in Falls.

North Branch does too, said Bill Wilson, one of the company’s principal members and a Mehoopany native. “We’re local residents. This area did not retain its natural beauty by accident,” he said. It’s protected by locals who oversee changes to it, he said.

Wilson said he fishes downstream of the site where the water would be discharged. “I plan on continuing that, as do my son and grandson,” he said.

Charlie Gay, who manages the airport, lives nearby and is another North Branch principal, said gas drilling is “here, but we have some options with the water and to make sure it’s done right.”

“This way, we have a little control,” he said.

“If they’re going to discharge it into the Susquehanna River, which people fish in, which people play in, it should be clean enough to drink,” said George Turner, a local geologist with experience handling contaminated water. “If they can’t clean it up that much, then reuse it as frac water.”

Peter Petokas, a Lycoming College aquatic stream ecologist, said that with any discharge, “water quality in the North Branch can only worsen.”

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