Fracking affects the Muskingum Watershed

Fracking affects the Muskingum Watershed

In early June 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers invited the public to participate in the preparation of a regional master plan and integrated environmental assessment for 15 projects in the Muskingum River Basin.

A master plan is the strategic land use management document that guides the management and development of all recreational, natural and cultural resources within the water resource development project for the next 15-25 years.

The announcement stressed the importance of public participation as being “critical to the successful revision of the master plan.”

A series of informational webinars was held at the end of June, and the public was provided with an address to send in their comments by Aug. 16, 2021. Since I live near one of the projects to be addressed under this plan, Tappan Lake, I decided to research the previous watershed plans and to send in comments.

An initial watershed assessment was written in 2012 and then a final plan, the Muskingum River Basin Final Watershed Assessment and Watershed Management Plan, was released in 2018. Both can be found online.

Upon examination of the 2012 initial plan and the 2018 final plan, it was obvious many of the concerns associated with the development of oil and gas activities within the Muskingum Watershed were excluded or minimized in the final 2018 plan.

The Muskingum Watershed includes parts or the entirety of 27 counties. The southeast portion of the watershed (Carroll, Harrison, Belmont, Noble and Guernsey) have been significantly impacted by oil and gas development. Other counties (Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Richland, Wayne, Ashland, Muskingum, Morgan, Columbiana and Washington) have all seen activities associated with oil and gas development (compressor stations, injection wells and pipelines).

Stakeholders’ concerns included drilling operations, specifically the chemicals/additives used to drill/frack, as well as the radionuclides brought up to the surface in produced water. Also mentioned were concerns about drilling-mud reserve pits (leaching of contaminants and pit closure), drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, contamination from spills, leaks, blowouts and deliberate releases (reinjection and discharge of separated water to a percolation pit), subsurface migration of contaminants among aquifers, and faulty remediation methods.

Stakeholders also were concerned about negative impacts to the environment and human health from fracking. Threats to groundwater included the large quantities of both surface and groundwater needed to frack a well: anywhere from 1.5-16 million gallons. Concerns of possible ground and surface water contamination from fracking were expressed.

The water quality section of the 2018 final report (Section 4.6) did not mention any of the 2012 IWA concerns surrounding the oil and gas industry. This is extremely troubling because oil and gas activities in many of the counties in the Muskingum Watershed have ramped up significantly.

Countless peer-reviewed studies point to the toxicity of fracking chemicals, but both the 2012 IWA and the final assessment only contained a short and rather benign list of 10 chemicals used in fracking (see page 75 IWA). No mention was made of the toxicity of these chemicals or their effects on human health and the environment.

The 2012 IWA report said, “There was a need for the state or a regional body with jurisdiction to evaluate water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing operations.” This includes both surface and groundwater. However, the final assessment had no data indicating the amount of water withdraws taken from the watershed from oil and gas activities.

The 2012 IWA report also said, “An area of concern is the cumulative impact on the surface of Eastern Ohio and how it potentially could impact water quantity and quality. Increased attention and coordination of the industry and regulators, along with local government officials, will be critical to lessening the negative impacts to land and water. Coordination of water supply, gathering and transmission line right-of-ways will be critical to avoid the potential of massive fragmentation of habitat. Further, the impact to stream water quality as a result of land disturbances from well pads, fresh water impoundments, rights-of-way, associated midstream and downstream facilities could be substantial.”

The 2012 IWA report said, “Other issues such as the impacts to existing roads and bridges by heavy drilling equipment and surface disturbance at the drilling site can be threats to water resources but are a lesser concern. Previous incidents reported in the region and other parts of the nation where hydraulic fracturing has taken place have involved contamination of potable water wells and spills of effluent drilling water into streams. Investigations have shown traces of contaminants in groundwater that may be associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. Other noted concerns focus on the possibility that fracturing fluids pumped under high pressure beneath the earth’s surface may impact the rock shelf (causing seismic events) or lead to surface subsidence.”

Unfortunately, for some reason, none of these concerns were addressed in the final 2018 report.According to data from FracTracker Alliance, at the end of 2018, 42% of the water used by the fracking industry in Ohio has come from the Muskingum Watershed. Additionally, 50% of the water withdrawal sites are in the watershed. About 33% of the Class II injection wells are in the watershed, and to date they have taken in 44% of the fracking waste. About 42% of the fracking-related compressor stations that have gone in also are in the watershed.

Of all Utica/Point Pleasant/Marcellus wells, 44% are in the watershed. Five of the 27 Class II injection well proposals pending permit also are in the watershed. Five of the 17 recently proposed or constructed natural gas power plants are in the watershed with a sixth (the 1085 MW Harrison Plant) being constructed on the edge of the watershed. The capacity of the five newly constructed gas power plants account for 33% of the recently proposed or installed natural gas plant capacity.

The 2018 final report had a short five-paragraph section pertaining to fracking (see sections 7.3,4,5). No recommendations were made, and no fracking data pertinent to the watershed was supplied. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to take the issue of fracking seriously in the next Muskingum Watershed Plan and not just ignore it.

If you want to add your voice to this conversation, the USACE will hold public Zoom meetings on Jan. 6 from 2-3 p.m. and at 6 p.m. The call-in number is 1-844-621-3956, the access code is 146-132-6885 and the link is https://drreedinc.webex.com/meet/lhornung51. Comments can be provided using the email address at MuskingumRiverMasterPlan@usace.army.mil or by mail to ATTN: Charles Goad, 502 Eighth St., Huntington, WV 25701.