OH Enviro Groups Warn Against Water Withdrawals for Fracking

With the rapid expansion of natural gas drilling in Ohio’s Utica Shale comes a need for water used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Each well drilled can use upward of five million gallons of water. Some it comes from recycled wastewater from other fracking operations, but there’s still an ongoing need for water.

In February, the city of Steubenville [OH] signed a contract with Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy that allows the company to draw as much as 700,000 gallons a day from a reservoir filled with water the city pumps from the Ohio River. Chesapeake pays $5 for every 1,000 gallons of water it draws.

Officials with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District said 12 oil and gas companies have asked to draw water from six reservoirs it controls across a broad swath of eastern Ohio.

So far, the state has approved permits for 159 Utica shale wells, with many more expected. In Pennsylvania, energy companies have drilled 5,279 wells into the Marcellus shale since January 2006.(1)

Those who oppose drilling trot out the “there’s not enough fresh water to go around” argument as part of their fear tactics. And so it begins for Ohio:

Environmental advocates say the growing demand could threaten wildlife and public drinking water supplies.

Lea Harper, a member of the Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water, questions whether the Muskingum officials should sign any agreements.

“There isn’t enough water to go around,” Harper said.

Kari Matsko, of the People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative, an anti-drilling group, said state rules don’t limit how much water a company can siphon from inland streams or lakes.(1)

In bordering Pennsylvania where a large portion of the drilling falls within the jurisdiction of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), extensive studies have been done to evaluate just how much water is used for fracking vs. water withdrawals for other uses in the Susquehanna River basin. The bar chart below is telling. In PA where there’s been a LOT more drilling than in Ohio, the water used for fracking is a thimble-full when compared to other uses.

According to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the gas industry uses about 2 million gallons of water per day from the Susquehanna watershed. In comparison, the recreation industry, such as ski resorts and golf clubs, uses 50 million gallons per day. Thermoelectric power plants are by far the largest users of water in Pennsylvania at 6.43 billion gallons per day. A lot of numbers are thrown around, and it is easier to see with a chart.(2)

Water Usage in Pennsylvania

The argument that fracking will bleed local water supplies in Ohio dry does not, shall we say, hold water.

(1) The Columbus Dispatch (Mar 26, 2012) – ‘Fracking’ is thirsty work

(2) The Commonwealth Foundation (May 31, 2011) – WITF Marcellus Forum Viewers Guide