Dry Spring Drives Gas Producers to Largest Rivers for Water
The State Journal
27 June 2012
By Pam Kasey
Places where shale gas operators can responsibly withdraw water
for hydraulic fracturing are already few in this unusually dry
The online U.S. Drought Monitor puts conditions in three-quarters
of West Virginia, all but the easternmost edge, at "abnormally
It's not quite drought — yet.
But the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's
online Water Withdrawal Guidance Tool says only the largest rivers
are safe for withdrawals, and fewer all the time.
In the northern, central and western parts of the state where most
of the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, takes place, withdrawals
were acceptable on Tues., June 26, from the Tygart Valley River
and Monongahela River; by the morning of Wed., June 27, they were
The only water body the tool now advises is safe for withdrawals
in the region is the Ohio River.
DEP launched the guidance tool in 2010 in response to resident
concerns about large withdrawals during dry periods. A user
clicking on any of about 90 watersheds of interest receives
withdrawal advice based on readings from a United States
Geological Survey, or USGS, stream gauge.
Since August 2011, though, the online tool is mainly for
residents, according to DEP Environmental Resources Analyst Jason
Every gas well permit issued since emergency oil and gas rules
went into effect at that time has a water management plan with
specified surface water intake points and thresholds that are more
strict than the tool, said Harmon, who handles the water
management plans for DEP with the oil and gas industry.
"Every surface water intake is assigned a reference USGS gauge
and, before they can withdraw, they have to check the USGS web
site and see what the actual live readings are on the stream,"
Harmon said. "Generally, the operator will run the same withdrawal
site for long periods of time, so there's usually someone at the
well site that will be familiar with the thresholds and
communicate them to the drilling or fracking crews."
The industry has developed a practice of including several
withdrawal sites in their water management plans.
"They'll have a preferred location close to the well site and a
larger stream further away and a larger one further than that, and
ultimately the Ohio River," Harmon said. "And of course they do
include purchased water."
Residents continue to actively reference the Water Withdrawal
Guidance Tool, Harmon said.
"I know that there are very concerned citizens' groups who monitor
the tool religiously. We hear from them," he said. "We know that
they are keeping an eye on the operations that are in their areas
and these are the same people who do (Freedom of Information Act)
requests for permits and know the thresholds assigned in the water
He said the industry has been receptive to the thresholds
established in the water management plans.
"We've receive very little negativity from the industry ," he
said. "Even though they're not allowed to withdraw, I think it
gives them a sense of stewardship. It takes the guesswork out of
For residents who witness withdrawals they believe are out of line
with the Water Withdrawal Guidance Tool, DEP suggests documenting
the facts: the company, the location, the specifics of the
activity observed and the date and time. Time-stamped photographs
are especially helpful.
Report inappropriate gas industry withdrawals to DEP's Office of
Oil and Gas at (304) 926-0450; inappropriate withdrawals by anyone
may be reported to Environmental Enforcement at (304) 926-0470.