John Arway is right: Pa. should charge for use of water

I heard a story this week related to the Marcellus natural-gas
play that is disturbing. Not illegal or perhaps even unethical,
mind you, but troubling all the same. And it illustrates a problem
our commonwealth is ignoring.

It seems a long-ago established and successful central Pennsylvania
trucking company, which is located on the bank of a well-known
creek — that is actually more like a river over its lower reaches
— recently decided to make a profit from the demand created by
drillers needing so much water to fracture the Marcellus shale to
release natural-gas.

The company filed for and received a water-withdrawal permit from
the state and bought a dozen or more water-tanker trucks for the
endeavor. They reportedly could be seen recently parked in a shiny
line along the stream. It was, no doubt, a wise business decision
by the trucking company’s owner.

After an admittedly significant investment, the company is
positioned to make a small fortune participating in the Marcellus
gas play. Not only can it sell the water conveniently flowing past
its headquarters, but it can deliver a huge volume it.

But that’s not right. The water belongs to all of us, the citizens
of the commonwealth. It is a precious resource that should not be
available at no cost to wily businessmen. Problem is, it has always
been that way — in Pennsylvania and most of the eastern United
States where water resources have always been copious.

And the way the water-withdrawal permits are structured for a big
stream like the one the trucking company in question will pull
from, a huge quantity of water can be taken — an almost unlimited
amount under normal flow conditions, barring a severe drought. It’s
just one more drain in the Susquehanna River basin. 

In the West, where water supplies have always been more limited –
and, hence, better protected, regulated and guarded — agriculture,
business and industry has always had to pay for water. I think we
have reached the point where it needs to be that way here,
too.

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat
Commission, strongly believes that is the case. He noted recently
that the idea has already gotten some interest from lawmakers. He
wants the state, and the commission in particular, to be reimbursed
for the water pulled from rivers, as is done in the West.

“It has property value — and it is commonwealth property,” he
said. “We need to be compensated for that.”

Arway also told Fish & Boat commissioners at their recent
meeting that he wants to charge industry – namely the gas industry
– for the permit-review work his agency does at a cost of up to
$400,000 annually. He doesn’t think that it is fair that anglers
and boaters have to pay for the permitting through their license
fees.

The commission was hoping and expecting to get a cut of the revenue
from the ill-fated natural-gas severance tax that every state
except Pennsylvania that has deep reserves charges drillers, but it
appears that is not going to be enacted anytime soon.

So at least the state should charge for the water!

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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