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Ohio Mulls Water Sales, Leasing Land to Operators

Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) regulators are considering plans to sell water to operators to use for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), as well as possibly lease land in portions of the Marcellus and Utica shales.

ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans told NGI's Shale Daily the agency was not under a deadline to finalize either plan, the former of which would give operators access to water from Ohio's rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

"We are moving forward on the development of a water use plan," Heidi Hetzel-Evans said Monday. "We're fairly early in the development process and we have many different types of land. Obviously, taking into account the impact on recreation and wildlife habitat is important, so we may be looking at some scientific analysis to go along with it."

Hetzel-Evans said the agency has been discussing a water use plan since April, but she added that there was essentially nothing new to discuss. She also confirmed a report in the Columbus Dispatch, which published information from several internal memos on the matter. One message asked, "Can we do this?" Another queried, "Can we charge and how much?" Additional memos argued that state law gives regulators the authority to sell water from state assets if it is "advantageous" to do so, but the law forbids such sales if the impact would be detrimental to recreation or wildlife.

"It's going to be thoughtful process, but it probably will not be done in the short-term," Hetzel-Evans said.

Earlier this month officials with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), a state government entity that controls 8,000-square mile watershed covering about one-fifth of the state, said they would halt any future water sales for drilling until the U.S. Geological Survey completes a study of whether three reservoir lakes could handle additional withdrawals. The MWCD also wants additional public input into future water sales.

"While we continue to oppose the sale of public water for an industrial use that we believe is not adequately regulated by the state and federal governments, we thank the MWCD for [its] responsible action," Melanie Houston, spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Council, stated on the group's website. "A halt to future water sales until a careful study of any impacts to the lakes is complete and thorough engagement of the public in this important debate is the right decision."

The three reservoir lakes are Atwood Lake in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, Clendening Lake in Harrison County and Leesville Lake in Carroll County.

Last year Gov. John Kasich signed Substitute House Bill 133, which opened state-owned land -- including state parks but not nature preserves -- to oil and gas leasing (see Shale Daily, June 16, 2011). It also established four classifications for all property owned or controlled by a state agency and required each agency to inventory and classify every parcel of land it owns.

"'Tier 1' lands are the most likely to be available for potential leasing," Hetzel-Evans said. "It's not necessarily that we're looking to lease it, it's just that all state agencies who own land are required to know their mineral rights. With any state land, that can be very complicated because mineral rights were severed on some state-owned land before the state took over. We've added state forests over the years so there are many plots to look at, and each plot might have its own separate research need in terms of who owns the mineral rights."

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