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Environment


Frackers little affected by lower water levels
Planning ahead, storing water reserves, and recycling frac-water seem to be keeping the shale gas players' operations running more or less normally
by WKSU's TIM RUDELL


Reporter
Tim Rudell
 
Dover Dam, in Tuscarawas County, was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1933. It is now undergoing extensive renovation
Courtesy of Rudell
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The drought and fracking:  WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports on how the water-intensive drilling process at the heart of eastern Ohio’s shale gas boom may affect…and be affected by…water levels in the region.

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Crews work eighty feet below us on the concrete apron of eighty-year-old Dover Dam.  It’s in Tuscarawas County; one of Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District’s 14 flood control dams and lakes built in the Great Depression and now being upgraded.

The District’s Darrin Lautenschleger says the watershed’s ability to control flow has made this year’s drought manageable in terms of stored water levels, especially in the big reservoirs. “When we’ve had rainfall, it’s been very heavy.  Lots of runoff.  The lakes are designed to hold that runoff.  So there’s been a lot of runoff into the lakes and into the tributaries that feed the lakes.”

Lautenschleger says water held in the system is available to farmers in times of drought -- but none are calling for it yet. It’s also available to other enterprises, and that has included fracking.  “Our conservancy district signed one agreement with Gulfport Energy for the supply of water from Clendening Reservoir for up to 11-million gallons.  Clendening Reservoir has 8-point-6-billion gallons of water in it, so less than one percent.  That was conducted last month.”

But, Lautenschleger says, no more sales to frackers will happen, for now.

“Because of public concern, and our own thirst to understand what the situation is, our district contracted with the U.S. Geologic Survey to look at all the lakes and so we placed a moratorium on any further sales of water until we have the results of that study, which are expected sometime by the end of the year.”

The watershed’s cut off does not seem to be affecting the area’s biggest fracker.  Nobody from Chesapeake Energy would go on mic.  But, in an email, Jaque Bland of the Pittsburgh office said the Oklahoma-based company is used to holding water reserves for dry times to “ensure Chesapeake’s operations aren’t affected, and that there are no impacts on the waterways.”  Chesapeake also recycles its water — and has a new recycling plant near Carrollton.

But, Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council cautions that  evaluating the impact of fracking on water supplies is not a simple matter. “They try to be smart and they try to store water ahead of time, so if there is a situation like right now, a drought, they’re prepared for that.  But, we should also not be looking just at one season, but at the long haul; and what will this do water sources over time.” 

Shaner also says regulations for drawing off water for fracking have changed. “It’s now law in Ohio that before a driller can begin they must identify the source of the water that they will be using to frack the well.  This is a good move to understand and to know ahead of time: well, where do they plan to get these millions of gallons of water?  Because that goes again to the question: can the source withstand it?

In addition to surface water—from rivers and lakes—Ohio has vast stores of “ground water” in aquifers beneath us.

Tyler Converse runs the city of Canton’s Water Department, which taps ground water as far away as northwestern Tuscarawas County to supply upwards of a quarter of a million people in Stark County.  (start to bring up the sound of the plant in here and explain the background sound, such as … “Over the sound of the pumps in the XX plant on the city’s northeast side, Converse says he’s not been approached by frackers yet, but a push for city water may be coming. “I just heard some figures the other day, like the number of permits for frac pads in Stark County is about a dozen or so.  For these companies there almost kind of test wells to show that what they think is in the area is in the area.  And then, if they find it, off they go.  They’re kind of like little scouting mission.”

Converse says, more scouting is probably necessary on the regulation and control side of the drilling boom, too, so he welcomes a recent lull in new drilling.“I’m not hearing of new property being leased at the moment, and we can actually use that time to make adjustment to supposedly what’s coming.  So I’m actually quite thankful for that.

Ted Lozier of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources says  there has been no recent water withdrawal registration activity from the ninty or so active shale gas drilling sites around the state, and no demands for water that are taxing current supplies


Related WKSU Stories

Environmentalists worry about fracking waste
Monday, July 2, 2012

Ohio Gov. Kasich says fracking bill balances environment and economy
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New report looks at Ohio fracking disclosures
Thursday, July 12, 2012

Muskingum Water District halts water sales
Thursday, June 7, 2012

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