The head of a major Pennsylvania water utility sees a two-fer in convincing Marcellus Shale operators to replace trucks with pipelines for fracking.

In addition to potentially lowering operating costs, the proposal could solve large problems facing rural Pennsylvania: the quality and accessibility of water supplies and the damage to local roads caused by hauling trucks, Kathy Pape, president of Pennsylvania American Water Co. (PAW), said last Wednesday at the Marcellus Shale Gas Environmental Summit in Pittsburgh.

“We have parts of Pennsylvania that are still like third-world countries in terms of public water supply. So a pipeline is one way we see to get water out to those areas,” she said. Operators would build water pipelines to drilling sites and then give the pipelines to PAW once drilling operations are done.

While that might sound like a scheme to get free pipelines, Pape said regulated utilities can’t add contributed assets to capital costs, so donated pipes wouldn’t up rates (but would up the number of rate-paying customers).

Additionally, Pape sees benefits to industry taking the lead. First, industry could save costs by building pipelines to areas that PAW wants to serve but cannot afford to connect to the grid. Second, operators can use surface leases to build through open country whereas PAW is forced to build under roads.

With access to piped water, many residents in rural corners of Pennsylvania would be able to stop using unregulated water wells that are often contaminated, according to a 2009 report from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Because operators often get blamed for contaminating those wells, many companies have been forced to test water wells before drilling begins in order to gather baseline information (see NGI, Aug. 15; May 16).

The proposal wouldn’t keep trucks off the roads entirely. Operators also use trucks to haul sand and wastewater, and while each Marcellus well requires around 5 million gallons of water for each round of stimulation, companies are increasingly recycling water or using other fluids (see NGI, Aug. 29).

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