MARIETTA - More than 40 people attended a forum about the oil and gas industry's impact on local streams, rivers, reservoirs and groundwaters at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Marietta Wednesday.
Betsy Cook, a member of the Marietta/Washington County League of Women Voters group that sponsored the event, started the forum off with an overview of some people's concerns about horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract gas and oil from Ohio's Utica and Marcellus shale beds.
Cook acknowledged the recent oil and gas drilling activity is already generating jobs and lease income for many local residents.
"A lot of new businesses are cropping up, and there's a growth in housing sales and rentals," she said. "It's an economic boom and there are many pluses for our area. But there are also some concerns."
Cook noted hydraulic fracturing operations require freshwater ponds containing between 5 million and 8 million gallons of water, as well as brine ponds to hold "flowback" containing the chemical mixture that helps fracture the shale to release gas and oil.
She said other concerns related to the oil and gas operations include increased carbon emissions and road wear from additional truck traffic to and from drilling sites.
* Friends of the Lower Muskingum River Inc.-http://www.muskingumriver.org or call 374-4170.
* Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District-http://www.mwcd.org/ or call (877) 363-8500, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"We're also worried about the chemicals in the brine these trucks are carrying," Cook said. "And there's a tremendous use of freshwater for these operations, so we're concerned about stream and groundwater contamination."
Sean Logan, chief of conservation at the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, said the organization's sales of water from watershed reservoirs to hydraulic fracturing companies help prevent wear and tear on area roadways by cutting down on truck traffic.
"Temporary pipelines are installed that carry water from the reservoir to tanks that are only used to store freshwater," he said. "The companies are paying $9 per 1,000 gallons for the water."
Logan said a recent sale of 7.8 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake in Harrison County had negligible drawdown from the reservoir.
He said the MWCD puts proceeds from the water sales back into water improvement projects within the watershed. One example is that the conservancy district would like to help the Noble County commissioners with funding to eliminate problems from some septic systems that are leaking into groundwaters there.
Logan added that the MWCD requires oil and gas companies to sign a road use maintenance agreement with the county in which the reservoir is located before any water can be sold. And he noted the district would not provide reservoir water if it impacts recreational use and boating, or if it would affect aquatic life in streams and other waterways.
Although he understood people's anxieties about horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations, Logan said that was not as big a concern for the MWCD as the pipelines that companies are building across the landscape.
"Nature can only provide so much before that bounty has to be restored," he said. "Conversion of land areas for pipeline right of way can create a different kind of ecosystem. We need to prevent fragmentation of these land areas."
Logan said runoff and soil erosion from pipeline construction, as well as the change of animal habitat pipelines can create should be of greater concern in the watershed.
Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator with the local Friends of the Lower Muskingum River Inc. group, said a Sisters of St. Joseph grant awarded in March would help fund monitoring of water when hydraulic fracturing operations begin in Washington County.
"These funds are to be used to help test water prior to drilling and post-drilling, and then make the results available to the public," he said.
Daubert said the group has been monitoring the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website for new wells coming online in the county, and so far there have been no drilling operations here, although a company is planning to set up an operation in Adams Township.
He said that company still has not obtained the necessary permitting.
"But we want to work with them when drilling begins, to help reduce potential impacts on the watershed," he said.
Marietta area resident Don Libhart, who said he has drilled wells across the country, including injection and horizontal hydraulic fracturing wells, answered some concerns.
"I drill wells clear across the U.S., and just drilled an injection well in the St. Marys area last year," he said. "What people aren't talking about is the casing of these wells."
Libhart noted the wells are drilled down to 8,000 feet, far below the 100 feet or so depth of most drinking water wells.
"We have to set multiple pipe and casings and seal them with cement all the way to the surface on these wells," he said. "They're very, very expensive to drill, costing millions of dollars, and the states require numerous stages of protection."