Support is growing for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) — a state government entity that controls an 8,000-square mile watershed covering about one-fifth of the state — to sell water for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales, albeit on a temporary basis.

MWCD board members discussed the idea of authorizing temporary water sales to operators at their meeting on Thursday, and it could be placed on the agenda as an action item at their next meeting scheduled for Aug. 24.

Sean Logan, conservation chief for the MWCD, told NGI’s Shale Daily the district is waiting for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to complete a study of three reservoir lakes under MWCD control to see if they can support withdrawals by operators. The lakes being studied are Atwood Lake in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, Clendening Lake in Harrison County and Leesville Lake in Carroll County.

Logan added that the district would like the USGS to study three additional lakes controlled by the MWCD: Piedmont Lake in Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties, Senecaville Lake in Guernsey and Noble counties, and Tappan Lake in Harrison County.

“We would like for them, at some point, to do all six,” Logan said Thursday. “It’s always been on the radar to do all six of the eastern reservoirs because there have been pending requests for well over a year to withdraw water. Those lakes are pretty much lined up in the heart of the plays from north to south.”

The idea of allowing temporary water sales to operators has even garnered the support of environmental groups, especially The Nature Conservancy in Ohio.

“An interim policy of a few water withdrawals carefully considered on a case-by-case basis from MWCD reservoirs are preferable to contractors removing these same volumes of water from many of the MWCD’s streams and the surrounding area, particularly during the low-flow period of late August and September,” John Stark, Ohio freshwater conservation director for the environmental group, said in a July 13 letter to the MWCD.

“Not only are stream type and size important in considering withdrawal impacts, but seasonality of withdrawal from streams and reservoirs could yield differing results,” Stark said.

In early June, the MWCD announced a halt to any future water sales for drilling until the USGS completes its study and the public has an opportunity to comment on the issue (see Shale Daily, June 20).

MWCD spokesman Darrin Lautenschleger told NGI’s Shale Daily on Thursday that there was currently no agreement with the USGS to study Piedmont, Senecaville and Tappan lakes, but he added such an agreement was expected in the coming months.

“Whether the USGS report at the end of the year will have all six lakes or just the initial three is yet to be determined, but we’ve made it clear that it would be good for them to apply the same methodology and analysis to all six,” Logan said.

Separate from what the MWCD ultimately decides, regulators with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) are considering their own plans to sell water to operators for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Last month, a spokeswoman for the ODNR said there was no timetable or deadline for the agency to finalize its plans.

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.