Amid some concerns from residents, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is moving forward with a study to determine if three of the district's reservoirs can withstand the sale of water for use in fracking wells.
In the hydraulic fracturing process, commonly called fracking, water is injected into the ground along with a combination of sand and chemicals to shatter the rock formation and release natural gas.
The MWCD board currently has an agreement with Gulfport Energy Company for the sale of 11 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake.
Under the agreement, the conservancy district is reimbursed $9 per 1,000 gallons from Gulfport Energy for a total of $99,000, said Darrin Lautenschleger, public affairs officer with the MWCD. That money is placed in the general fund for operation of the district.
"(The agreement) is capped at 11 million gallons and that represents less than one percent of the water from Clendening Lake," Lautenschleger said. "The district has been approached, had about a dozen inquiries, and that's the only agreement that's been proposed to the board of directors and been approved."
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is set to conduct a study of three lakes in the district - Clendening, Atwood and Leesville - to determine if they are capable of withstanding the sale of water for the fracking industry, Lautenschleger said.
There is a short term agreement between Gulfport Energy Company and the MWCD board in place for 11 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake. The agreement was reached in April.
The MWCD has received requests from oil companies expressing interest in drawing water from six Ohio reservoirs - Clendening, Leesville, Tappan, Atwood, Piedmont and Seneca lakes.
A study by the United States Geological Survey is being performed to determine if three lakes - Atwood, Clendening and Leesville - are capable of withstanding withdrawals for fracking.
Source: Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District
Residents in northern counties such as Tuscarawas have expressed concern over the sale of water, and its potential impact on recreation at the reservoirs.
The MWCD covers more than 8,000 square miles, or about 20 percent of Ohio, from just above Canton to Marietta and drains into the Muskingum River. Overall, the MWCD spans five counties and portions of 22 others and includes a system of 16 reservoirs.
"We share their concerns, and that's a primary reason we're having the research done with the USGS," Lautenschleger said. "We want to determine what capacity is there and how to best then evaluate the requests for any sale of water into the future."
Washington County Commissioner Steve Weber shared some of the concerns expressed by residents, including the amount of water needed for a well.
Drilling companies have approached the conservancy district because each fracking well requires roughly 5 to 6 million gallons of water.
"That's a lot of water. It takes a while to drain that back in," Weber explained.
Weber said his primary concern was where the water would come from locally, as the bodies of water in the area do not have sufficient flow to meet the needs of a single well.
The Little Muskingum River and Duck Creek, both part of the watershed, would nearly run dry if 5 to 6 million gallons were pulled from them at once, Weber said.
With the water potentially coming from reservoirs instead of local rivers and creeks, Weber said he's not as concerned about the possible sale of water by the district.
"If that's the way they're going, it probably won't be a problem," Weber said.
Noble County Commissioner Bob Nau said he's in favor of the district selling water to the drilling companies as it will serve as a boost to the economy.
"I've been to multiple well sites and I know what they're doing," Nau said. "I feel like there's enough water to go around."
By state law, conservancy districts have the authority to sell water.
Sale of water already takes place in the district as there are three long-term agreements in place.
One is with the village of Cadiz to provide municipal water from Tappan Lake while the other two are for the operation of the Atwood Lake Resort and with the city of Cambridge to use Seneca Lake as a backup municipal water supply, Lautenschleger said.
All told, the MWCD has received requests involving six reservoirs from companies seeking to use the water in the drilling of fracking wells, including Seneca Lake which is located in Noble and Guernsey counties.
Information from the USGS is expected later this year, and no precise time frame is available on when agreements could be reached for the sale of additional water by the conservancy district, Lautenschleger said.
Each case will be examined individually with public input before a decision is made on the sale of water, he continued.
"This will be a public process, a transparent process," Lautenschleger said. "We've been listening to the public as well as listening to the concerns of the industry."