The City of DuBois could make special requests above and beyond state requirements when working out a potential five-year Marcellus Shale gas lease on its watershed property.
Professional geologist Mark Stephens of the DEP Bureau of Watershed Management made a presentation on Source Water Protection for Community Water Systems Thursday.
During the presentation, Stephens outlined potential avenues of pollution, creates a local steering committee, creates contingency plan, identifies new source sites, and ways to protect source water protection.
“This plan is a good first step,” Stephens said. “There’s more than just maps. There’s a whole strategy for dealing with gas wells. This firm gives you instructions on how to go to gas wells and they are available as consultants if you want to retain them after the plan is done.”
Currently, only one community water supply in Clearfield County has a Source Water Protection Plan. Stephens said its goal is to have all of the water supplies in Clearfield County draft a plan.
The city has been negotiating a lease with Carrizo Oil & Gas, a mid-level, publicly traded company founded in 1984 by former Shell executives. The company has grown extensively because of its drilling efforts in the Barnett Shale region in Texas.
The city could get about $500 per acre – about $1 million – for leasing the land, and 15 percent in royalties on gas collected.
Stephens said the hydrofracing fluid which is used in gas well drilling is a “witch’s brew like” mixture consisting of mostly water, a large amount of hydrofluoric acid, as well as smaller parts of rust inhibitors, bug killer, soap, sand propellants and other ingredients.
“This is proprietary information, at least for a lot of drilling companies. They will never tell you the exact concentration of this stuff,” Stephens said. “You can see it has some things in it you may not necessarily want in your reservoir. Some of these things, once you get them in your reservoir you’re not going to be able to get them back out without having to filter it intensively.”
Aside from filtration issues, Stephens offered a cautionary tale of the Snow Shoe community water supply as food for thought.
In 1993, Snow Shoe’s reservoir began to dry up so three water wells were drilled to supply water to the area. Over time, 17 gas wells were drilled throughout the area around the wells.
One of the 17 gas wells was drilled 1,500 feet away from one of the water wells in November 2005 and the water well dropped drastically because of the connection of their underground fracture traces.
“It really crippled their water system,” Stephens said.
“My job as a professional geologist is to protect the resource, and I’m not willing to trade one resource for another. So, I ask community water sources to do due diligence,” Stephens said. “I believe gas wells can be drilled in areas safely. It is technically possibly.”
City Manager John “Herm” Suplizio asked Stephens if the city could make requests of Carrizo above and beyond what state regulations require the company to do when they are drilling the well.
“You can write a covenant or condition,” Stephens said. “The perfect world is to try to negotiate with the gas company to try to get them to understand the importance of the watershed so that they use the best management track possible.”
Stephens advised Suplizio to ask the gas company to build its wells per drinking water regulations – which are better fortified than gas well regulations. Also, good additions to contracts are to have a company monitor all springs downstream of wells to assure that while it’s drilling no pollutants are pumping out elsewhere. Additionally, to include water sampling within a certain vicinity of the project before, during and after drilling of the well.
“Here at the city we want to protect our watershed. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Suplizio said. “And we want to go above and beyond.”
Stephens said the city can seek advice through the Source Water Protection Plan. If that is not the route it chooses, it can also consult DEP’s Oil & Gas Department or Stephens offered to recommend groundwater consultants.
“You’ve got a lot at stake. I’ve been to West Virginia and Ohio and Maryland and you have a nice source here. It would (be) nice to be able to protect it,” Stephens said.