By Ed Runyan
In several quiet and not-so-quiet locations in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, the gas and oil industry has started drilling full-bore the past few months.
Its activities can go nearly unnoticed for the most part, though officials say the increased number of workers staying at local motels and eating at local restaurants provides a clue.
Also, Trumbull County road officials have brought agreements for county commissioners to sign that specify the companies’ responsibility to repair any damage they cause to roadways.
But another large issue that has bubbled below the public consciousness has been the negotiations between public water authorities and drilling companies.
Though fracking sand, drilling rigs and workers can be trucked in, water is a resource vital to drilling that generally comes from close to home.
Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program, said a typical well drilled in Eastern Ohio’s Utica Shale play using hydraulic fracturing can use about 7 million gallons of water.
About half the time, the best source of that water is a public water supply. For the other half, water from a nearby pond is drawn.
For several Trumbull County wells either drilled or about to be drilled this spring, the water is being supplied through a water line directly to the site, such as the Halcon well on Brunstetter Road in Lordstown village and a well coming soon on Warren-Sharon Road in Vienna. The same was true of a Consol well on Blott Road in North Jackson.
Trumbull County’s first Utica well, on Hayes-Orangeville Road in Hartford, however, wasn’t close enough to a water line to allow water to come directly to the property, so other methods were used.
According to documents filed with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the water for that well was expected to come from the city of Warren by tanker trucks.
Bob Davis, director of Warren’s water department, said he has no way of knowing whether that is true, but the amount of water being hauled from the city’s filtration facility on Elm Road near the Mosquito Lake Dam suggests it might be.
The city has accounts on file for dozens of water haulers, but there’s no requirement for the haulers to indicate where they are taking the water they buy.
The city installed additional water hookups at the plant in recent months in hopes of accommodating water haulers, and the effort has paid off.
Haulers used 219,000 gallons of water in January, when the Hartford well drilling began. The figures climbed to 356,000 in February, 457,000 in March, 967,055 in April, and have risen to more than 2 million during the first two weeks of May.
Before this year, the taps were used only by pool haulers, Davis said. They usually bought about 200,000 gallons per month during the peak pool months in the summer, he said.
Davis doesn’t know how much additional revenue the water sales will bring, but he hopes it will help offset some of the loss of water sales to the city’s largest customer — RG Steel, which shut down last summer, taking with it the $1.2 million worth of water revenue it generated annually.
RG Steel used about a million gallons of water per day.
“Will it [drilling water] totally make up for [the loss of RG]? Probably not,” Davis said, but it might prevent the water department from making quite as many staffing reductions. He hopes to sell 100 million gallons this year.
Meanwhile, Warren could also see some benefit if negotiations are completed between Lordstown and the Ohio Commerce Center on state Route 45 to provide Warren water to the commerce center, which is considering a plan to sell water from taps there.
Warren provides water to Lordstown’s General Motors complex, but the water line runs past the commerce center.
Warren can accommodate the sale of millions of additional gallons of water per day. Its plant capacity is 22.8 million gallons per day but currently sells about 12 million, Davis said.
Bruce Platt, Lordstown utilities superintendent, said Warren sells about 700,000 gallons of water per day to General Motors. The city of Niles, through the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, sells about 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of water per day to the village’s other customers — including the commerce center.
Lordstown also worked with Halcon starting last fall to provide the water to Halcon’s well on Brunstetter Road and eventually provided a tap-in from the village water system to provide about 6 million gallons of water used in the drilling operations.
Limits were placed on how much water could be drawn from the village to prevent any disruption of water service to Lordstown’s existing customers, Platt said.
Halcon created a 1.8 million gallon rubber-lined holding area for the water so the water could be drawn gradually from the water line. Halcon is planning to use a much larger holding area for its well on Warren-Sharon Road at Scoville North Road in Vienna.
It will hold 6.8 million gallons of water to be provided from a tap-in from the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s office. “Our first and foremost priority is to provide water to our homes and businesses. Well drilling is secondary,” Platt said.
The cost to Halcon for water at the Brunstetter well is $7.12 per thousand gallons, $10 per thousand gallons from the county’s tap-in. In both cases, the charge for the water is the same as for other bulk-water customers.
State law prevents the water authority from selling water at a cost higher than the cost of providing the water and maintaining its equipment, officials said.
Still, there are benefits to the water authority.
“It’s unexpected revenue,” Platt said, estimating the Brunstetter water sales will result in about $20,000.
“That’s not a huge amount, but if you do 10 of them, that could be something,” Platt said.
Bill Coleman, office manager for the Mahoning County Sanitary Engineer’s Office, said the sale of about 10 million gallons of water to Consol for the North Jackson well produced revenue of about $50,000 for the office without any disruption to the agency’s normal customers in Milton and Jackson townships and Craig Beach.
“It was a bonus for our system,” Coleman said, The well was drilled in March and April of this year.
The agency normally sells about 325,000 to 350,000 gallons of water per day, but it is allowed to sell up to 2 million gallons per day.
It is discussing another drilling project with Halcon for a well site on Bailey Court just north of U.S. Route 80 in Jackson Township that would use about 7 million to 8 million gallons of water.
Tom Holloway, chief engineer with the MVSD, said lawyers have researched the question of MVSD selling bulk water to the gas and oil industry and determined that it could not.
But the city of Niles, which buys its water from MVSD, still profits a little through its middleman status in selling water to Lordstown and the Trumbull County Engineer’s office.
John Nemet, Niles superintendent of water and wastewater, said there is a water tap at the city’s waste treatment plant on Summit Street, but only pool water haulers use it now.
Nemet said he doesn’t know how much Niles will profit off of the additional water sales for the Vienna and Lordstown wells. “It helps,” he said.
Youngstown’s water department has a tap-in location for bulk water trucks on West Avenue in Youngstown but has seen only a slight increase in water sales in the past year.
In the last six months of 2012, it sold 742,000 gallons of water more than during that period in 2011, said Dan Blakely, engineering assistant for the Youngstown Water Department. From January to May 1 this year, it sold 1.4 million gallons more than the previous year.
One million gallons of water produces revenue of about $5,000, Blakely said.
Like other water authorities interviewed, Youngstown’s water department has been approached by drilling companies asking if the department could provide a couple million gallons of water daily.
“Our transmission lines are not designed to draw a couple million gallons of water per day,” he said.
Aqua Ohio, a for-profit water company operating in the Mahoning Valley, did not return a call seeking comment for this story.