Prove your humanity

A gas drilling company is asking the state to reconsider its request to withdraw water from a Western Pennsylvania trout stream. 

Findlay, Pa.-based PennEnergy Resources last year made a request to take 3 million gallons a day from two locations on Big Sewickley Creek, both in Beaver County. It proposed sending the water through a temporary water pipeline to supply a fracking operation in nearby Economy Borough. The DEP denied the request over concerns that it would impact “water quality, stream flow, fish and wildlife…and aquatic habitat.”

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which also reviewed the request, recommended the company find an alternate source because the creek was home to the southern redbelly dace, a fish listed as threatened in Pennsylvania. 

In March, the company resubmitted an application, this time requesting to withdraw half the amount of water. 

A company spokeswoman said in an email that it would limit withdrawals to 11 percent of the stream’s flow, and that when water levels are low, it will stop or slow its withdrawals, in response to terms set by the Fish and Boat Commission.

The plan is opposed by some in the community over fears that it will impact aquatic wildlife on the creek, which forms the border between Beaver and Allegheny counties along much of its length and empties into the Ohio River.

Katie Stanley, president of the Big Sewickley Creek Watershed Association, said the southern redbelly dace was found on a portion of the stream in Allegheny County in a 2020 survey of the stream by the Allegheny Land Trust – and that the fish hadn’t been seen in Allegheny County since 1980. 

“This creek is high quality enough to support this fish. That’s pretty rare. This fish is in danger of becoming endangered, so there should be work done to protect this fish,” Stanley said. 

She also said the stream is a favorite for swimmers and local anglers, and is worried withdrawing water from it for fracking will limit recreation for people in the area. 

“We’re concerned that this could possibly impact the future of this creek being trout-stocked. That’s a huge draw to our region for recreation and tourism,” Stanley said.  She added that her group submitted a letter opposing the plan to the DEP with over 200 signatures.

“The majority of those signatures were collected on the opening day of trout (season) from fishermen and people that were enjoying the creek for fishing and recreation that day,” she said.

The plan is also opposed by Democratic state rep. Rob Matzie, who said in a letter to the DEP that the plan was a “bad idea” that had “the potential to destroy the myriad of recreational activities enjoyed by residents.” 

PennEnergy has another intake nearby on the much larger Ohio River, but the company says it wants to pipe water from the Big Sewickley to reduce truck traffic in the area. 

The DEP and Fish and Boat Commission say they are reviewing the company’s proposal. 

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.