The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) says it will consider short-term water sales from two lakes in eastern Ohio to oil and natural gas operators drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

On Friday the MWCD Board of Directors voted to authorize temporary water sales from Clendening and Piedmont lakes during their upcoming “drawdown,” an annual event during which billions of gallons of water are released downstream to protect against flooding. The board said terms over the temporary sales — including price and amounts to be sold — would be discussed in future negotiations with the industry.

“At drawdown, billions of gallons of water are released from the lakes, making this the optimum time to supply excess from the lakes to the oil and gas industry without any negative impacts on recreational activities at these two lakes, including boating,” said Sean Logan, the MWCD’s conservation chief.

The MWCD said it had received a sharp increase in requests for water from operators as they prepare to begin their drilling operations, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

“By removing the water from the lakes, potentially thousands of loaded tanker truck trips will be eliminated across township and county roads that normally are not constructed to withstand such activity, reducing inconveniences for residents of the regions and the additional hassle and expenses for township governments for road repairs,” the MWCD said.

Clendening Lake is located in Harrison County, while Piedmont Lake spans Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties. Both are controlled by the MWCD, a state government entity that controls an 8,000-square mile watershed covering about one-fifth of the state.

In June the MWCD said it would halt any future water sales for drilling until the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) completed a study of whether three reservoir lakes — Clendening, Atwood Lake in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties and Leesville Lake in Carroll County — could handle additional withdrawals (see Shale Daily, June 20). On Friday, the MWCD said the USGS study would not be completed until year’s end.

“But oil and gas firms have informed [us] that they plan to begin drilling wells in a matter of a few weeks near Clendening and Piedmont lakes, and they are requesting to withdraw water directly from the two lakes,” the district said. “If they are unable to access the two lakes, they have reported to [us] that they will find other sources of water and use tanker trucks to deliver it to the well sites, all of which are located in rural regions.”

Logan added that the MWCD “[doesn’t] need a study to verify that excess water is being released from the lakes during the drawdown period, which occurs each fall and winter.”

Logan told NGI’s Shale Daily in August that the district would like the UGSG to also study Senecaville Lake in Guernsey and Noble counties, and Tappan Lake in Harrison County, plus Piedmont (see Shale Daily, Aug. 6).

In a letter to MWCD President William Boyle, the Ohio Township Association (OTA) voiced its support for water sales to support fracking. The letter was presented after the MWCD board had voted to authorize the temporary water sales.

“Because large bodies of surface water are the most appropriate source of water supply for [fracking], we can offer our support for the sale of water from these sources, if environmental safeguards are in place, including noise reduction measures, and protection of aquatic life and the recreational aspects of the MWCD lakes,” OTA Executive Director Matthew Temple wrote on Sept. 12.

Temple added that the OTA also supported the water sales to reduce truck traffic, which would improve safety and cut down on road maintenance.

The MWCD said the combined amount of water released from Clendening and Piedmont lakes during the drawdown would total more than 6 billion gallons. It estimated that operators in the region would require between 5 and 10 million gallons per well.