Monitoring, regulating water usage in horizontal drilling
Local debate has recently centered on the water demands of proposed natural gas drilling.ﾠ Exactly how much water will be used with new horizontal drilling techniques will depend on the number of wells and the level of production.
Regardless of what the future holds, an understanding of the water demands of horizontal drilling and how this water usage is regulated and monitored by the state is essential for a local landowner.
According to the Farm Bureau presentation at a meeting in Moundsville on September 22, in addition to an increase in water withdrawal, local landowners will also have to deal with drilling sites of up to four acres.
County residents and local roads will have to accommodate more than 60 tractor trailer loads of equipment per site for drilling in Marcellus shale.ﾠ By comparison, the Farm Bureau presentation said that a conventional vertical well requires less than a quarter of an acre site, 14 tractor trailer loads of equipment and uses between 150,000-200,000 gallons of water.
Horizontal drilling, regardless of the well's statutory designation as deep or shallow, will require a much larger drilling site, and a greater volume of water.
According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Office of Oil and Gas, Devonian Era shales including Brown, Lower Huron and Marcellus, all require horizontal drilling.
Gene Smith from the permits division of the Office of Oil and Gas stated one lateral or leg of a horizontal well can require between 500,000- 1 million gallons of water.
The amount of water required for one Marcellus well depends on the amount of laterals and the length of the laterals.ﾠ The longer the lateral, the more water required, he explained.ﾠ Smith noted that a well using horizontal drilling with multiple laterals could require millions of gallons of water.ﾠ
According to Mike Stratton with the West Virginia DEP, no permit is required for water withdrawal in West Virginia and there is no limit on the amount of water withdrawn.ﾠ Stratton explained if a water withdrawal exceeds 750,000 gallons for one facility in a month, the facility is required to register the water withdrawal with the DEP.ﾠ Registering the withdrawal does not limit future water use, he said.ﾠ
Stratton noted that if a company plans to drill within 1,000 feet of any spring or water well used for domestic or agricultural purposes, all landowners must be notified and are eligible to have the company conduct a base line water test before drilling begins.
The Water Resources Protection and Management Act, Senate Bill 641, establishes that "the public policy of the State of West Virginia is to protect and conserve the water resources for the state and to provide for the public welfare. The state's water resources are vital natural resources of the state that are essential to maintain, preserve and promote quality of life and economic vitality of the state."
Stratton explained that technically the state owns the water, but the landowner has the right to use the water providing no downstream neighbors are harmed.ﾠ If the water is disturbed or damaged, the landowner affected can engage in a civil suit or if water quality standards are violated then DNR or the DEP can step in.
Currently West Virginia has 14 DEP Oil and Gas Site Inspectors.ﾠ Pocahontas County shares one inspector with Braxton, Gilmer, Webster and Clay counties.ﾠ Stratton explained that there is no process or procedure to ensure that companies don't contaminate or exhaust a water resource ahead of time.
Stratton explained that over the next five years, the state will develop a Water Resources Management Plan to further evaluate water's value as a natural resource.ﾠ This plan, which will eventually include smaller regional plans, may be able to address more specific water issues, needs and uses within different regions of the state because each has unique issues which need to be considered. he said.