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Company receives approval to drain 1.5 million gallons of water a day from Pittsburgh-area creek

Local fishermen reeling over DEP approval of Big Sewickley Creek water removal
Local fishermen reeling over DEP approval of Big Sewickley Creek water removal 02:57

ECONOMY, Pa. (KDKA) — A fracking company received approval to drain up to 1.5 million gallons of water a day from a treasured Beaver County creek.

There's an uproar among some community members who are hoping something can be done to reel in the plan.

The Big Sewickley Creek runs through parts of Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties. It's a popular spot for casting a line.

"Just one of those local creeks that happens to bring a lot of enjoyment and has a function for fisherman," said Bob Schmetzer, a fly fisherman.

Schmetzer is reeling after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approved PennEnergy Resources' request to remove 1.5 million gallons of water a day for fracking operations. The project hasn't started yet, and the plan expires in January of 2029.

"It's completely absurd to try to take that volume of water. They first wanted 3 million gallons, which was absurd. Even 1.5 million gallons, the creek doesn't really seem to have that volume of water to be able to satisfy their needs and also protect that water source," Schmetzer said.

The water withdrawal site is expected to be off Big Sewickley Creek Road in Economy Borough, an area known as a prime trout fishing spot.

"Trout season is coming real soon, and the fish commission is going to be stocking. Adding further restrictions and reductions to water flow could permanently hurt trout stocking and the recreation in that area," said Schmetzer.

A second permit is for a temporary above-ground waterline to transport water to PennEnergy's nearby well pad.  

The Big Sewickley Creek Watershed Association, other watershed advocacy groups and hundreds of residents have been fighting this for more than two years.

After many letters and petitions asking the DEP to deny the water withdrawal permit, many feel their voices were ignored.

"That water will never be returned to nature," said Schmetzer.

A Penn Energy Resources spokesperson sent a statement to KDKA-TV, which said,

"PennEnergy is committed to safe and responsible natural gas development and has worked diligently with Pennsylvania's Fish and Boat Commission and Department of Environmental Protection to address public comments and questions raised during the 23-month review. Utilization of local water sources and temporary water lines allows the reduction of up to 200 trucks a day from local roadways during completion activities. We encourage those interested in the project to review the protective measures detailed in the approved applications available for review on the Department's Community Information Page. Currently, we do not anticipate construction of the project in 2024, however timing is subject to change."

According to DEP documents, the fracking company is permitted to remove 5 million gallons of water per day from the Ohio River in Freedom Borough and has permits for removing water from a few other local water sources.

The community is gutted, and Schmetzer hopes state lawmakers can catch and release this plan for good.

"That creek is that important. It's the issue that we have to fight for," he said.

State Rep. Rob Matzie recently issued a statement that said he reached out to the DEP acting secretary to submit a formal request for reconsideration.

"This has been an ongoing area of concern for my constituents, and a personal issue for me, going back many years. I grew up very close to the creek, playing in the water and the surrounding woods as a child. This creek is a vital natural resource for fresh water in the area, is stocked with trout, supports a variety of wildlife nearby, and in some years, parts of the creek dry up during hot summer months. I understand that the department has regulations and guidelines to follow, but after speaking with hundreds of constituents who feel the same way, I am baffled by this decision," Rep. Matzie said in his statement.

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