* Commission suspends permits in most areas since 2008
* Talisman says fracking reduced due to low gas prices
* Carrizo Oil & Gas planned around dry season
By Jeanine Prezioso
NEW YORK, July 16 Natural gas drillers in
Pennsylvania have had to stop withdrawing water from certain
streams due to a severe drought, a water regulator said on
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) said it has
suspended permits to siphon water from the river's streams in
the highest number of areas than at any time since it began
issuing permits to gas producers in June 2008 allowing them to
draw river water for operations.
The SRBC, which manages the river as a water source, said
the suspensions affected around 30 companies, not all of them
gas companies, that rely on some 64 water withdrawal areas in 13
Pennsylvania counties and one New York county.
Water is an integral part of the natural gas drilling
process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" and gas
production in those areas has grown rapidly in the last three
However, four gas producers said the suspensions did not
affect them as they had already reduced operations because of
seasonal planning or low gas prices, or are using alternative
Many gas producers either keep water in reservoirs, recycle
water or plan operations around the dry season because the
process of hydraulic fracturing is so water intensive.
In fracking, water is mixed with chemicals and flushed into
a horizontal well at high pressure to hold open cracks created
in rocks, allowing gas particles to rise to the surface.
A spokesman for Carrizo Oil & Gas said the company
schedules well completions around periods of expected dry
"Carrizo currently has no well completion operations in
Susquehanna County due to scheduling around the seasonal dry
period," he said. "We will be completing wells in Wyoming County
and return to Susquehanna later in the year after the end of the
Fracking has allowed gas drillers to draw out huge amounts
of previously untapped gas reserves, causing a glut of the fuel
in the United States that pushed prices early this year to the
lowest level in a decade.
Talisman Energy, which had suspended some
operations in April due to thin water supplies, said low natural
gas prices were the reason it has reduced drilling activities
"With the low natural gas prices our frac activity is slower
and therefore our consumption of water is also low as a result,"
Pam Tragesser, a spokeswoman for Talisman Energy in
The Woodlands, Texas, said in an email.
Talisman also uses a "large percentage" of recycled water
for its operations when needed, Tragesser said.
New York Mercantile Exchange natural gas prices sank
to a 10-year low this spring, at times reaching below $2 per
million British thermal units, or less than half the 2011
average of around $4 per mmBtu.
The nation's first and second most prolific gas producers,
respectively, XTO Energy, owned by ExxonMobil, and
Chesapeake Energy each said their operations were not
affected by the latest suspensions of water permits.
"The suspension and drought have had minimal, if any, impact
on XTO's operations, with no changes to our drilling program,"
said Jeff Neu, a spokesman for XTO Energy in Fort Worth, Texas.
If needed, XTO will "use alternative permitted water
sources," he added.
A Chesapeake Energy spokesman made reference to an emailed
statement from April, during another period of drought, that
said the company plans ahead for such restrictions by
"withdrawing water during high-flow intervals and storing it for
Pennsylvania has been a focal point for natural gas drilling
in the United States. The state sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a
large natural gas basin, and heavy production from that basin
has aided in pushing prices lower.
Cabot Oil & Gas, Southwestern Energy and
EXCO Resources were also listed as having operations in
the suspended water withdrawal areas.
Representatives for those companies did not immediately
reply to requests for comment.