Drillers in eastern Ohio are using more fresh water to hydraulically fracture wells for natural gas and related liquids, and that trend has Ohio activists concerned about future water consumption.
By late 2014, drillers in Ohio will require an estimated 5.8 billion gallons of water per year, says an analysis by Ted Auch and Danny Berghoff of the FracTracker Alliance, an environmental group with offices in Cleveland Heights.
Within five years, Ohio drillers might require between 8.7 billion gallons and 16.9 billion gallons of water per year, the report says. Those figures assume the state will approve 25 to 49 new Utica Shale permits monthly over that time.
Not unexpectedly, the two sides have sharply different views of Ohio’s water supply and the effect fracking of shale wells will have on it.
State officials and the drilling industry say Ohio has plenty of available water and that furnishing the needed water to drillers will not pose problems.
Overall, Ohio typically uses 8.7 billion gallons per day from surface and underground supplies for drinking water and all other uses, according to state data. Electric power plants are the biggest users, consuming 6.5 billion gallons daily. That means that Ohio uses about 31.75 trillion gallons of water per year.
Supplying water for drilling is not a concern, with drillers relying on a variety of sources: streams, pools, ponds, lakes, wells and water sales, said Shawn Bennett of Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-drilling trade group.
Drillers need more water for fracking if a well’s horizontal laterals are longer and also for drilling in liquid-rich areas, Bennett said. Areas with natural gas only require less water for fracking than areas dominated with liquids.
A 2-inch rainfall in Carroll County alone will produce 13.9 billion gallons of water, he said. That is enough water to frack more than 2,400 wells.
What the drillers use in Ohio water is “really a drop in the bucket, pun intended,” Bennett said.
Activists, however, are worried about water use for Utica drilling and how little the drillers are being charged for water.
Auch’s assessment covers 365 horizontal wells in Ohio from third-quarter 2011 through the end of 2013. The average Utica shale well in Ohio required about 5.1 million gallons of water to be fracked, he said.
That’s about as much as 48 four-person households would consume over the course of a year.
Auch said projections are that well drillers would need 6 million gallons per well in the next 18 to 24 months, if current trends hold.
The additional water use is likely tied to longer laterals being drilled and from the fact that Ohio drillers are not under any pressure to be careful with water resources, he said.
Auch said the water used in Ohio for fracking is twice the volume that drillers use in Oklahoma. He speculated that could be because water is so cheap and readily available in Ohio.
The data Auch developed came from the FracFocus website, where drillers voluntarily post information on the water, sand and chemicals used in the fracking process.
To date, the FracFocus site covers 447 Ohio wells, some of which are vertical-only. Some of the wells required little water to frack; others exceeded 13 million gallons.
In Ohio, residences use about 939 million gallons of water annually. The drilling industry is using 812.5 million gallons annually, and that total is growing, data show.
The water drillers use in Carroll County — Ohio’s No. 1 drilling county — is 82 percent of the county’s total residential water consumption.
Water vital in fracking
In fracking, water is pumped under pressure, along with sand and certain chemicals, into drilled wells to extract natural gas and petroleum liquids.
That water picks up low-level radiation and toxic heavy metals from the rock. It will also be high in total dissolved solids and salt.
Some water must be removed from the well before production can begin. In Ohio, a small volume of that water is recycled, but, typically, most goes into injection wells for permanent disposal.
What’s most troubling to Auch is that the water used in fracking in Ohio was provided at minimal cost to the drilling companies. He said some water was tapped for free and other water at minimal costs from landowners, local communities and watershed conservancy districts.
For example, Colorado-based Antero Resources wants to take 4.8 million gallons per day from the Ohio River to provide water to its fracking operations in Ohio and West Virginia. It is building a $60 million water system with up to 10 water storage facilities in the two states. It has also bought water in Seneca Lake in Guernsey and Noble counties from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.
Antero is proposing a cost of $4.25 per 1,000 gallons used, which would amount to an average water expense of $21,494 per well. If the well costs an average $8.1 million, water costs would amount to 0.00265 percent of that total, Auch said.
The Muskingum district, based in New Philadelphia, also has sold water to drillers from Clendening Lake in Harrison and Tuscarawas counties and from Piedmont Lake in Harrison and Belmont counties. The highest rate is $8 per 1,000 gallons.
“The drillers are not paying true market value for the water, and that’s very troubling and disturbing,” Auch said.
“In effect, Ohio and Ohioans are subsidizing [drillers’] water operations, and that’s not right,” he said. “They’re going to be using 6 billion gallons of our water in the next two years. We really need to re-evaluate what they’re paying for water.”
In addition, only a small volume of that water, 4.62 percent, is recycled, he said.
According to FracFocus, Chesapeake Energy Corp. is the only Ohio driller that is recycling water.
Chesapeake recycled water from 75 of its 309 wells in eastern Ohio from third-quarter 2011 through third-quarter 2013. The company has declined to discuss its recycling program with the media.
The other drilling companies working in Ohio reported zero water recycling in their FracFocus filings.
The problem, Auch said, is that drillers in Ohio have no incentive to recycle liquid wastes from drilling.
“What we’re seeing is that drilling has the potential to change water quality and water quantity in watersheds like the Muskingum-Tuscarawas watershed, Auch said.
That basin stretches from Akron to the Ohio River and covers 19 counties.
Lea Harper, now of Bowling Green, was involved in fighting water sales from Seneca Lake.
“Ohio has to be very careful,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. ... And we can’t let that happen with Ohio’s water resources. It’s too valuable.
“Some may call us overcautious,” Harper said, “but it’s surprising that more Ohioans aren’t troubled by what’s happening.”
For more information on Auch’s report, go to www.fractracker.org.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.