The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is negotiating its fourth lease for natural gas drilling around Piedmont Lake in three eastern Ohio counties.
Colorado-based Antero Resources is seeking access to nearly 6,700 acres.
The district already has a lease arrangement with Antero at Seneca Reservoir near Cambridge. Its governing board could approve the Piedmont Lake deal as early as April 18. Financial terms have not been finalized, officials said.
The proposed deal was announced March 21. Comments may be submitted through April 17.
Fresh Water Accountability Project, a grass-roots group, has expressed displeasure with the proposed lease. It is being done “without environmental assessment or competitive bidding and despite public protest,” spokeswoman Lea Harper said.
She said the concern is that such leases and water sales to drillers negatively will affect the reservoirs and the Muskingum River watershed and hurt residential property values.
The district is operating “without oversight, responsibility and accountability,” she said and largely has ignored the protests against leasing and water sales.
Fresh Water Accountability Project has challenged the district in court. A lawsuit filed in late 2013 is pending in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
The district announced in January that it intended to seek leases at Piedmont Lake, which lies in Belmont, Harrison and Guernsey counties.
Officials said the Antero deal includes additional protections that would minimize negative impacts on normal recreational activities at Piedmont Lake and on surrounding land.
At least two well pads for drilling are expected to be built on district-owned land at Piedmont Lake. Those will be in areas with minimal recreational use. Other well pads would be constructed on non-district land.
The lease on district property at Piedmont Lake includes numerous environmental protections that can be extended by Antero to adjacent landowners if they agree, said Theodore R. Lozier, the district’s chief of conservation.
Other provisions give the district the authority to approve erosion control and construction plans, drilling operations and reclamation and light and sound controls.
The district previously agreed to leases for property it owns at three other lake areas: Clendening Lake in Harrison County in 2011, Leesville Lake in Carroll County in 2012 and Seneca Lake in Guernsey and Noble counties in 2013.
Those leases produced $77.4 million in signing bonuses for the district.
That money has enabled the district to pay down its debt and begin to upgrade its recreational facilities. Muskingum also is looking at eliminating an assessment landowners in the district pay, but that cannot be done until 2015 at the earliest.
Stretching from Akron to the Ohio River, the watershed district covers 14 reservoirs and dams in 18 counties. It owns 54,000 acres of public land. About 275 vertical-only gas-and-oil wells are drilled on its land.
The proposed lease is available for public review at www.mwcd.org/pages/flood-reduction-and-conservation-stewardship/conservation/piedmont-reservoir-lease.
Public comments may be sent to: Piedmont Comments, Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, P.O. Box 349, New Philadelphia, OH 44663. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxes to 330-364-4161.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.