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'Doing the Math' on Millions of Gallons for Drilling

It sometimes seems that with the Susquehanna River and the myriad streams flowing into it across our landscape, the water supply is infinite. And who would know better than the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), which monitors the water levels and flow.

As reported here last week, there is an application in to the SRBC by Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, to withdraw up to two million gallons of water a day (actually 2,016,000) from a location at Sugar Run. That seems like a lot of water, especially when one considers that would make four withdrawal points from Terrytown on down, which would extract a total of up to 6.44 million gallons a day from the river for gas drilling.

That seems like a lot of water, but then the SRBC tells us that in Sugar Run, for instance, the average daily flow of the river is about 482 million gallons a minute, and it all seems like the proverbial drop in the bucket. It's tough to get your mind around two million gallons, let alone hundreds of millions sweeping by you in a matter of seconds.

How Much Is It?

Bradford County District Attorney Dan Barrett, who likes to fool around with numbers when he is not prosecuting law breakers, saw our story and began to contemplate how much water two million gallons is.

"To help the readers visualize how much water that would be, I've done the math," Barrett reported this week.

His calculations determine that two million gallons would fill a one-acre pond to the depth of six feet, two inches. You could fill a pond of that size every day with that much water.

Now, if you've been wondering how many tanker trucks would be required to transport two millions gallons to sundry locations every day, Barrett's math estimates that it would require 400 loads each hauling 5,000 gallons, or 20 tons of water, every day.

Imagine now a football field surrounded by a wall 3.71 feet high and filled to the top with water. That's a million gallons, Barrett says. He calculates that a football field is comprised of 36,000 square feet (300 by 120 feet) compared to 43,560 square feet in an acre. Consider that a cubic foot contains 7.48 gallons.

"An acre-foot of water holds 43,5609 cubic feet times 7.48 gallons per cubic foot, or 325,828 gallons," Barrett explains, which means that a depth of 3.07 feet over that acre would contain a million gallons.

By the way, Wikipedia tells us in its examination of water volumes that it takes 660,000 gallons of water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool (50 by 25 meters) and six feet, seven inches deep. You could fill that pool more than three times every day with a reservoir of two million gallons.

Before we continue with our watered-down mathematics, remember that the withdrawal amounts of water to which we will be referring are "up to" the gallon amounts the SRBC had approved or is considering for approval.

And how did he get his numbers about the water trucks? Here goes. A pint weighs a pound and a gallon consists of eight pints, which means a gallon weighs eight pounds. Since a ton weight 2,000 pounds, it would take 250 gallons of water to weigh a ton. A 5,000-gallon tanker is carrying 20 tons of water, and that breaks down into 200 loads for a million gallons.

Lots of Swimming Pools

Okay, now that we can visualize that two million gallons by acres, football fields, water trucks and even eight-lane Olympic-size swimming pools, let us contemplate that a number of gas companies, including Cabot Oil & Gas, Chief Oil & Gas, Chesapeake Appalachia, Southwestern Energy and Talisman Energy, are all tapping the Susquehanna River and its tributaries for many times what will be pumped out of Sugar Run if that application is approved. Aside from the four extraction points in the Wyalusing area and the townships of Wilmot, Terry and Wyalusing for a daily volume of up to 6.44 million gallons previously alluded to, there are several million gallons being withdrawn upstream from the mighty Susquehanna, including one million gallons in Athens Township and two million in Sheshequin. A few miles below, in Mehoopany Township, there is a withdrawal of up to a million gallons.

There are multiple withdrawals from Tunkhannock Creek, Towanda Creek, Wyalusing Creek and Sugar Creek. Southwestern Energy alone is removing up to three million gallons a day (mgd) from the Wyalusing Creek at two locations in Wyalusing Township (Campbell and Ferguson), as well as approved daily withdrawals of up to a quarter million gallons (.249 mgd) from Cold Creek in Herrick Township, and Mill Creek and Ross Creek in Stevens Township.

A slew of public water suppliers are selling their water, including but not limited to: Towanda Municipal Authority, Canton Borough Authority, Troy Water Department, Dushore Water Authority, Tunkhannock Borough Municipal Authority, Pennsylvania American Water Company (Montrose Borough) and Aqua Pennsylvania Susquehanna Division (Sayre). Most of them are listed on the dockets of more than one company.

You can go to the SRBC website at www.srbc.net to track down applications for water withdrawals approved and pending.

With the help of a county prosecuter, we are able to visualize how much two million gallons is. Getting a clear picture on all the water being taken for gas drilling ventures, in surface water and what lies below in the aquifers, is much more difficult.

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