By TOM GIAMBRONI
LISBON, Ohio - A local group opposed to surface drilling in Beaver Creek State Park is turning its attention to drilling companies that may want to withdraw water from the Little Beaver Creek.
Jim Kerr, the unofficial leader of Save Beaver Creek State Park, said he is concerned about efforts by water haulers to use any one of the several branches of the Little Beaver Creek to draw water for drilling companies operating in the area.
"We don't know how many are doing it, but we know they are taking it out," he said.
Chesapeake Energy is the only applicant that has obtained a state permit to draw water from four locations along the creek, although the company stated it has no current plans to do so.
"While we have registered with the ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) for the sites you have mentioned, there are no current plans to withdraw water from those locations. If we chose to do so, all withdrawals could be outside the boundary of the Wild and Scenic designation and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899," wrote Chesapeake spokesman Pete Kenworthy, in an email.
Kenworthy was referring to the portions of the North, Middle and West forks of the creek and its main stem that have been designated as a state and national wild and scenic river. According to the ODNR, Chesapeake registered to withdraw surface water from three areas of the West Fork of the creek and one location along the Middle Fork.
Companies are required to register with the state if they intend to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water per day over a 30-day period from a surface source such as a river, stream, lake or pond. The same goes for companies withdrawing water from a groundwater source. Registrants are required to file annual reports by March 1 detailing how much water, if any, they withdrew in 2012.
Kerr's group is concerned about the potential impact on the creek - especially the wild-and-scenic sections - since an average of 4.5 million of gallons of water are required to "frack" a well, which is the drilling process used to free up the oil and natural gas trapped in shale formations located a mile or more underground.
Kerr said they are interested in limiting the amount of water that can be withdrawn from the creek rather than an outright ban prohibiting Chesapeake and other drilling companies from using the creek as a water source.
"We want them to limit the amount they take, especially during low-flow periods, because of the potential impact on fish and other aquatic life in the creek," he said.
The creek is home to 63 species of fish, 49 species of mammals, 140 types of birds, and 46 species of reptiles and amphibians, including the endangered Hellbender salamander.
The issue of water withdrawals from the creek was raised last spring, with Chesapeake opting to find another source of water for a drilling site rather than use the West Fork. This occurred after the state received a letter from Madison Township Trustee Roger Walker, who was concerned about Chesapeake taking water from the creek to frack the Kernich well off Y-Camp Road and other proposed wells in the township. Y-Camp Road borders the West Fork. Matthew Smith, ODNR's regional scenic-rivers manager, wrote to his boss about the Walker letter and his own concerns about the impact such water withdrawals might have, especially on the Hellbender and fresh-water mussels.
"I know that we do not have any jurisdiction over the issue, but I am concerned with how water withdraws might affect the West Branch of the Little Beaver Creek Wild River," he wrote his supervisor, state scenic-rivers manager Bob Gable, in a letter dated April 12, 2012.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, ODNR officials contacted Chesapeake, which decided to seek another water source to frack the Kernich well rather than use the creek.
"This is the Department of Natural Resources program working the way it's supposed to work," said ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans.
Kerr and Save Beaver Creek State Park are concerned there is very little in the way of state regulations, other than the registration and annual reporting requirements.
"In other words, they can pretty much take whatever they want," he said.
The group intends to share their concerns with state officials and also approach Chesapeake, which holds 51 of the 61 new gas drilling permits issued for Columbiana County over the past 2-1/2 years.
"We think Chesapeake will be willing to work with the public" based on its decision in regard to the Kernich well, Kerr said. "We're appreciative of that, but at the same time they need to know what effect this could have on the wildlife in the stream and the fact Beaver Creek is a Wild and Scenic River and the impact it could have on that designation."
Chesapeake's Kenworthy said they take all of that and more into consideration when deciding on water sources for drilling.
"Chesapeake takes into consideration the available supply for other consumers or users. We also ensure that there is no adverse effect on stream flow, aquatic life, recreational resources or sensitive environments," he wrote, adding they work with local, state and federal agencies to "make certain that water used for natural gas and oil development in Ohio is consistent with the water use plans for the relevant watershed."
Tom Butch, who is also a member of Save Beaver Creek State Park, said they are looking to work with drilling companies on alternatives to using the creek, such as municipal water plants.
"Alternative water sources they would have to pay for, like East Liverpool or the Buckeye Water District," he acknowledged, whereas there is no fee for withdrawing water from the creek.
Butch indicated they would like to work with drilling companies intent on withdrawing water from the creek to create impoundments, where water could be diverted for their use. He said this way they could regulate water usage during low-flow periods to prevent a negative impact on the creek. Butch said the group wants to start a stream monitoring program for the creek and its branches, including water flow, to establish a benchmark for withdrawals.
"We also want to monitor quantity, and we're not sure that's ever been done in the past," he said.
Chesapeake has registered to use the other water sources in the county for fracking: North Fork of Yellow Creek, Shiveley's Lake, Elk Run and Big Rock Lake.
Other surface water later locations have been registered with the state for fracking: Summitville Tiles, X L Sand & Gravel, Wellsville Terminals Co., and Neeley Quarry. The only groundwater site registered for fracking purposes is some place called the light plant, by a company by the name of EP Management.