Appalachian Basin

Opposition Lacks Facts in Protest Against Water Withdrawals

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) recently held a hearing at the Conservancy Court in New Philadelphia to discuss the continued sale of excess water to oil and natural gas producers around the district. Selling this water would would bring much needed revenue for repairs and improvement within the watershed.  The benefits these sales would bring, and the facts of the practices involved in the development of oil and natural gas however, were of no concern to those who stand in opposition to responsible energy development in any form.

The best-of-the-worst of Ohio activist organizations were in attendance for this discussion. Unfortunately, they seem to have left their facts at home.

The Sierra Club, Buckeye Forrest Council and Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water cited two factors in opposition to the Conservancy’s agenda: water usage and hydraulic fracturing.

The arguments presented by these organizations were not based in fact, but rather a slew of misinformation and a distortion of truth.  In both the protest and the testimony, representatives came off as very uneducated on the issues, but carried on regardless  in order to remain vigilant in their efforts to stop oil and natural gas development at any cost.

The attempt to portray Ohio’s oil and gas practices as part of some ‘wild-west’ regulatory system has proven difficult of lately, but it was employed at the hearing. Of course, with the recent passage of SB 315 and well casing rules set forth by SB 165, Ohio’s laws are now one of the strongest in the United States, but opponents refuse to admit when they are wrong. Instead of being part of the conversation, they remain committed to unintentionally or intentionally (I hope it’s not the latter) misleading the public on these facts.

If they would just take the time to research and learn what they are fighting against, you would think it would finally click that shale development in Ohio is being done responsibly, and that water withdrawals from the watershed would only benefit those of us who actually live and recreate within the MWCD.

After all, the Youngstown Vindicator reports that over 253 ODNR inspections on 65 wells have yielded zero environmental violations during development of the Utica Shale.  From the Vindicator:

Utica Shale exploration has started without a hitch, according to a thorough review of well-inspection reports, but those against the fracking process say its too early to draw conclusions regarding Ohio’s first foray into massive horizontal resource extraction. (6/6/2012)

If this were any other topic, this impeccable track record would be viewed as an astonishing environmental success.  However, in the world of energy development, ideological detractors will never be satisfied.  They aren’t brash enough to tell you this but their efforts aren’t about safety or the environment; they are about their ideological, and closely held beliefs, on what the believe constitute the best energy sources for the United States.  That is why they ignore inconvenient truths like the fact that increased natural gas use has led to the U.S. reducing its carbon output by 450 metric tons in 2011- the most of any nation. But i digress, on to the other accusations these groups levied in an effort advance their agenda.

The next claim is almost as predictable as the last. It is that this is a new technology, of course hydraulic fracturing is certainly not new, having been used as a well completion technique in Ohio since 1953.  During that time over 80,000 wells have been stimulated utilizing this process in the Buckeye State, and in over 1.2 million wells nationwide.  In the entire 60 year process there has never been one confirmed case of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing.  These are not my words but the words of regulators across the nation and even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.  In fact, as recent as April 27th EPA  Administrator Lisa Jackson restated the fact, stating exactly:

“in no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater”. (4/27/12)

The focal point of the opposition of  water withdrawal however centered around the volume of water needed for the hydraulic fracturing process.  It is true the average well uses 3-5 million gallons of water to be fractured.  While it may seem like this is a lot of water in actuality it is not.  It is the equivalent to the amount of water used on a golf course in just a few weeks, the amount of water used in New York City in 7 minutes or the amount water used for 7.5 acres of corn during a growing season.  The actual water usage becomes even less significant when you consider these wells will be producing Ohio energy for decades to come.

Still concerned?  Then we should look east to Pennsylvania.  Since 2008 thousands of wells have been developed and fractured.   In total, this has required 5.6 billion gallons of water which, according to Susquehanna River Basin Commission records is pretty much statistically insignificant when compared to the 20 billion gallons per day daily average  flow of the Susquehanna River.  As you can see, this argument doesn’t hold much “water” (pun intended) when you look at the facts.

Further, when used to generate electricity, natural gas from shale ranks considerably lower than most other forms of fuels in terms of water usage.  Shale only utilizes 232 gallons of water to produce a Megawatt hour while nuclear and solar use more than double this amount of water to create the same amount of energy.  This is pretty noticeable in the diagram below.

The final argument used by those opposed to the withdrawals is that water used for fracturing will never return to the water cycle.  Although a great scare tactic, it is unfortunately as true as the Lochness Monster living in the Muskingum River.

Let’s take a look at the life cycle of water in the MWCD.  All water in the MWCD flows into the Muskingum River, into the Ohio, which then flows into the Mississippi River, ultimately flowing into the Gulf of Mexico becoming salt water.  The fresh water that begins in Ohio does not remain fresh or in Ohio for an infinite amount of time.

The water we enjoy in the MWCD is provided by rainfall.  It does not circulate around Ohio in some magic bubble as some unfortunately seem to believe.  We rely on that water that ends up in the Gulf of Mexico and the oceans to evaporate and return to Ohio as rainfall.   The same happens when we burn natural gas.

The burning of natural gas actually creates one molecule of CO2 and two molecules of H2O in the form of steam or water vapor into the atmosphere.  The water vapor or steam then returns to our water table as precipitation, which means we are in no danger of losing fresh water for our watershed or state.  I would highly recommend our readers take a look at a great story done by our counterparts in Pennsylvania (“Turning Natural Gas Into Water: Hydraulic Fracturing Doesn’t Deplete Water Supplies”).

What we are also seeing more of in Ohio, as well as Pennsylvania, is the use of water recycling.  During the hydraulic fracturing process, roughly 20% of the water used to fracture a well returns to the surface.  Many companies are recycling the flowback water instead of utilizing class II underground injection wells.  In fact, almost 90% of the flowback water in Pennsylvania is currently being recycled and used in subsequent hydraulic fracturing jobs.  As this technology continues to grow we will continue to see its growth in Ohio.

Leasing in the MWCD, as well as water withdrawals, is essential to improvements needed for the dams and lakes in the watershed.  As reported by the Coshocton Tribune, the MWCD has over $80 million in needed capital improvements. For the 18 counties that comprise the body, the opportunities offered by natural gas companies buying water and leasing mineral rights is one surefire way to close that gap and provide better services to residents in the District.

Luckily the MWCD conservancy court voted to allow the MWCD the authority to create a mechanism to sell water in the future.  If the conservancy moves forward with any possible water withdrawals, the MWCD will bring the request before a 3 judge panel who will decide the rate and withdrawal parameters. It is a win win for those of us in the MWCD.

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