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Another Study Finds Appalachian Water Use, Underground Injection Volumes Increasing

A recently released study by the FrackTracker Alliance shows that water use and wastewater generated from horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has dramatically increased in the Appalachian Basin since 2010, leading to a corresponding increase in the use of Class II underground injection wells, especially in Ohio.

The study's findings correspond with others released in the last year or so and underscore a growing concern for both the oil and gas industry and the communities across the basin where unconventional development has been occurring.

FrackTracker, which uses maps, data and regular analysis to track development in many of the nation's leading oil and gas producing states, found that 194 injection wells across Ohio are currently accepting 937 million gallons of wastewater, or an average of 4.3 million gallons per well, according to the alliance's Warren, OH-based researcher and program coordinator Ted Auch, who authored the report. That's up from 151 Class II injection wells in 2010, when they accepted 50 million gallons, or 331,982 gallons of wastewater per well.

The report highlights a sharp increase in water use that operators and regulators are currently working to mitigate. Last year, researchers at Duke University and Kent State University found that wastewater generated in the Marcellus Shale alone had increased by 570% since 2004 (see Shale DailyJan. 24, 2013). Auch said more of that waste, along with rising volumes in West Virginia, is increasingly finding its way to Ohio. Five of Ohio's top-10 injection wells by volumes "have continuously received more than 70% of their waste stream from out-of-state," the report said.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), which received regulatory primacy from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1983 to oversee the state's underground injection program, has acknowledged the uptick in wastewater. At a presentation earlier this month to discuss annual oil and gas production in the state, ODNR gas division chief Rick Simmers said his department went from about 35 employees in 2011 to 120 today (see Shale DailyJuly 8).

In 2011, only one employee worked in the underground injection program, but today nine people oversee it and Simmers said more will likely be hired.

The alliance also found that freshwater use is on the rise, increasing between 2010 and this year by 261% in West Virginia and 162% in Ohio. Operators in those states, the report said, rely less on recycled water to produce their wells than those in Pennsylvania, where the Department of Environmental Protection said that in the first six months of 2013, 14 million barrels of wastewater were generated from drilling in the state and 90% was either directly reused or treated and reused (see Shale DailyFeb. 6).

Ohio is taking a cue from Pennsylvania and it is working to update regulations for wastewater impoundments and recycling facilities at the request of operators that want more guidance to manage their water-use, according to officials at ODNR (see Shale DailyJan. 17Dec. 24, 2013).

Auch said the average Utica well currently uses between 6.5 and 8.1 million gallons of fresh water, up from 4.6-5.3 million gallons between 2010 and 2011. The increase is similar in West Virginia, where the average horizontal well currently uses 7-9.6 million gallons of fresh water, up from 2.9-5 million gallons between 2010 and 2011.

The alliance noted in its study that its work is part of an ongoing analysis aimed at helping regional entities and concerned citizens that are now dealing with more oil and gas development in their areas, as well as influencing the state to better consider its water resources at a time when similar efforts are underway.

 A group led by the Ohio Farm Bureau recently formed Healthy Water Ohio, a coalition of organizations that want to protect and preserve the state’s water resources. 

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