Monday, October 17, 2022

NO SPECIAL PROTECTION: The Exceptional Value Loyalsock Creek In Lycoming County Is Dammed And Damned

Video Dispatch From The Loyalsock: Water Withdrawal Point Construction October 13, 2022, another muddy sediment plume.


By Barb Jarmoska, Keep It Wild PA 


​The Loyalsock Creek, Pennsylvania’s River of the Year in 2018, is a beautiful mountain stream that travels through Lycoming County on its way to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. 

Designated an “Exceptional Value” waterway by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Loyalsock provides solace, joy, adventure and a connection to the natural world to thousands of anglers, kayakers, inner-tubers, swimmers, bird watchers, photographers and sightseers. 

Older generations regale with stories of summers spent at Best Beach, while water-loving folks of all ages extol the virtues of World’s End, the Haystacks, Hidden Valley and all the beloved places along the ‘Sock. 

Water that dances and glimmers and sustains the lives of fish, amphibians, birds and wildlife is freely offered to all. 

Those who know this creek intimately attest to “Loyalsock Magic”; I am fortunate to be among them.

  I’ve spent every one of my 74 summers on the ‘Sock. My fondest early memories are tied to the mile-long section of the creek that flows alongside the 20 acres my grandfather purchased in 1933, and where I now live year-round. 

I’ve witnessed many changes to the creek over those seven decades, some wrought by nature, most by human hands, a great majority of them negative.

  Underground, a mile beneath the creek’s waters, lies the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation that may prove to have the most detrimental bearing of all on the Loyalsock. 

Currently, there are four permitted water withdrawals on the creek, granted to the fracked gas industry by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC). These permits allow the industry to withdraw a total of 6,900,000 gallons of water per day from the creek.

  From 2008 to 2018, the industry reported taking 595,172,958 gallons from our Loyalsock, which in many places is no more than knee deep from shore to shore. 

The fresh water is then mixed with toxic chemicals and sand and forced at great pressure down hundreds of well bores to fracture the shale below, thereby releasing the methane gas to the surface.

I offered testimony at the public hearings that were held by SRBC for two of those withdrawals. Despite rooms packed with impassioned citizens who provided stories and all manner of sound reasons why the permits should be denied – all four applications have been approved.

  A retired couple who once lived adjacent to my property sold out to Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE), a fossil gas driller happy to pay an inflated price for their 90+ acres. The couple left the state, and PGE subsequently demolished their home and turned the land over to the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to be annexed to the Loyalsock State Forest.

  PGE then received new gas leases from DCNR for the entire parcel, permitting a massive industrialization project that includes multiple new well pads and access roads, up to 80 new fracked gas wells, a high-pressure gas gathering line and permission to clear-cut a large swath of forest on which to build the water pumping station. 

This work is occurring in areas already known for susceptibility to landslides and erosion, thereby posing a continued threat to our Loyalsock.

In addition to SRBC and DCNR permits, the drilling company was also granted permits from Pennsylvania DEP, giving a green light to work in the creek itself. (When it comes to Marcellus Shale projects, these state agencies always appear to work as a well-oiled trio.) 

I was among those who believed that the “Exceptional Value” designation given to the Loyalsock by DEP would spare our beloved creek from the worst of the potential degradation. 

I was wrong. 

With their surface water withdrawal and submerged land use permits for the Loyalsock Creek in hand, work crews arrived in July. 

The initial construction project was a coffer dam for the water withdrawal where up to 2 million gallons of creek water per day can be pumped up the steep mountain slopes on either side of the creek and used to frack the fossil gas wells.

  By September, construction of PGE’s coffer dam and dewatering site had caused enough damage to the waters of the Loyalsock to warrant nine separate violations of the Clean Streams Act, issued by DEP. 

The greatest insult to these waters came on October 13th, the day PGE rolled into the creek in a big CAT dozer and pulled out the construction materials used to build the coffer dam.

  I first realized there was a problem that day when I looked out my front window and saw the dense and growing plume of mud and silt traveling downstream. 

After filming the mud plume from my front yard and sending the video to DEP, I went to the construction site where I stood on the bank of the creek, taking photos and watching in dismay. 

The degradation was unmistakable, just as it had been multiple times in the previous two months.

  I received a call from DEP later that afternoon. The DEP employee was polite and respectful, thanked me for my incident report and told me, “I thought you deserved a phone call”. 

He explained that the degradation caused by a mud plume that lasted several hours was triggered by the removal of the coffer dam and “was to be expected.” “Expected? In an EV waterway? How can that be?” No reasonable response was forthcoming.

  I looked up the waterway designation language on the DEP website. Chapter 93.4a of the “ANTIDEGRADATION REQUIREMENTS” clearly states that “The water quality of Exceptional Value waters shall be maintained and protected.” 

In spite of the straightforward language, four water withdrawal permits and accompanying permits for pipelines and drilling sites have been issued in the Loyalsock Creek watershed. 

Already, it is obvious that water quality has neither been adequately maintained nor protected. 

There is no doubt that habitats for trout prized by anglers and the rare Eastern Hellbender are already being impacted by this work. 

And this is just the beginning of Pennsylvania General Energy’s project on State Forest land in our community.

  Three government agencies have a responsibility to protect the water quality of the Loyalsock: the Department of Environmental Protection, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, owner of the creek bed and the State Forest land.

Contrary to state law and regulations, the Loyalsock Creek has been both dammed and damned as a result of the massive water needs of the fossil fuel industry.

Video Dispatch From The Loyalsock: Water Withdrawal Point Construction October 13, 2022, another  muddy sediment plume.

  For more information on natural gas development in the Loyalsock Creek Watershed, visit the Keep It Wild PA website. Questions should be directed to Barb Jarmoska, 570-772-3742.

(Photos: Top- Overview of water withdrawal site at beginning of construction; Photos taken on October 13, 2022 during another muddy sediment plume event in the Loyalsock Creek.)


Related Articles This Week:

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Has No Exclusion Zones For Water Withdrawals From Any Streams, Including EV Or HQ Streams Subject To Water Quality Antidegradation Rules [PaEN]

-- PA League Of Women Voters, University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health Host 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference Online Nov. 15-16  [PaEN]

Related Articles - PGE Project:

-- Exceptional Value Water Quality Designation, State Forest Land, River Honors Were Not Enough To Protect Loyalsock Creek From Natural Gas Drilling & Pipelines In Lycoming County - By Friends Of The 'Sock   [PaEN]

-- Rare Eastern Hellbender Habitat In Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming County Harmed By Sediment Plumes From Pipeline Crossings, Shale Gas Drilling Water Withdrawal Construction Projects  [PaEN]

-- DEP, Fish & Boat Commission Investigate Multiple, Continuing Water Pollution Discharges From PGE Natural Gas Pipeline Construction Site On Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issues 2 NOVs Against PA General Energy For Water Pollution Discharges Into The Loyalsock Creek From Gas Pipeline/Water Withdraw Construction In Lycoming County  [PaEN]


Related Articles - Loyalsock:

-- Loyalsock Creek Named 2018 PA River Of The Year In Public Voting

-- Middle Susquehanna RiverKeeper Hosts Nov. 17 A Year In The Life Of The PA River Of The Year Loyalsock Creek In Williamsport

-- DCNR, Partners Celebrate Loyalsock Creek’s River Of The Year Honor, PA Rivers Month

[Posted: October 17, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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