LOCK HAVEN - A Texas-based company seeking to pump 4 million gallons of water from the Susquehanna River watershed to facilitate natural gas drilling may help precipitate construction of a specialized wastewater treatment plant in northern Clinton County.
Anadarko E&P Co. LP, a division of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in Texas, wants to use water from two sources in the river basin to drill natural gas wells into the Marcellus Shale.
"I think it's very encouraging, especially because we've been sitting on the sidelines here for the past six or seven months seeing drilling in these other areas," said Clinton County Commissioner Adam Coleman. "I think it's pretty exciting it's finally starting to get here. I'm sure in the next few months we're going to see a lot more permits issued. We've been seeing permits going in around the same time. We need to get the permits out and go from there."
One of 22 commissioners involved in the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania Natural Gas Task Force, Coleman said the county and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission have to be mindful of the large amount of water requested by Anadarko.
The firm is seeking to use 4 million gallons daily from two sites along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River - in Renovo and Chapman Township - to help in fracturing or "fracing" the Marcellus Shale to extract the natural gas.
Coleman said Andarko is drilling three wells - at an old Sunoco well site just off Hyner Mountain Road, another off Beech Creek Mountain Road in Beech Creek Township, and the third on stage ground in Grugan Township.
"There's always concerns about the water," Coleman said. "In the past few months, there's been talk of some of these companies drilling their own water wells to get their own frac water."
Some companies, he said, have reused water for a second pass through the shale in order to conserve. However, he said, the water cannot be used more than twice because it becomes too laden with chemicals and solids.
"I'm sure these companies are doing everything they can to be in compliance and not wasting the water they're using. That's not an issue right now," he said. "DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) does a good job watching them and keeping their feet in the fire."
County Planner Tim Holladay said two new treatment plants to handle frac water are being proposed, apparently by two different companies.
One plant would be in Chapman Township and the other near Karthaus.
The permit requests for these plants haven't been filed yet and are still in the preliminary phases, he said. Once completed, the requests would go to DEP and SRBC and be forwarded to the county for review and comment, Holladay said.
He hasn't received any such requests yet, he said, and also hasn't received any copies of requests from Anadarko regarding water use.
The company might put 2 million gallons of water in its well during the rock-fracturing process, he said, but they would then need to treat that water and return it to the natural environment. During the fracing process, he said, the water picks up "a whole lot of solids and turbidity and different types of salts that really aren't compatible with municipal sewage treatment plants because municipal plants run on bacteria and salt kills the bacteria."
In fracing, the county planner explained, "Water is pumped in at really high pressure and it fractures the rock. The water is mixed with a certain kind of sand and clay so it lubricates the rock. The sand particles go into the fractures and keep the rock from collapsing back together."
Shallow gas wells that draw from a pocket of natural gas don't require water like this, Holladay said, but the deep wells in the Marcellus Shale do. Fracing can crack the shale open so the gas seeps out of it.
How can this type of process, which requires so much water and the services of a treatment plant, pay off?
The wells could produce for 30 or 40 years, Holladay said. And, he added, this boom started a year ago when energy prices were high.
Along with the two deep wells drilled in the county on state forest lands last year - one at Hyner and another off Eagleton Forest Road in Beech Creek Township - permits were underway for wells in East and West Keating townships, Holladay said.
Local residents with water wells are concerned about the deep gas wells, he said, but he doesn't advise them to worry.
"In my understanding, these wells will be thousands of feet deep," he said.
The Marcellus Shale itself is so deep that when the shale is cracked at some spot and natural gas begins to seep out, the gas will only come out of the well, he added.
And the impact on the environment?
"I think DEP is going a good job along with SRBC of regulating the water use," Holladay said. "DEP has very strict limits on how much salt you can discharge from a treatment plant."
The natural gas task force, comprised mostly of county commissioners from north of Interstate 80, will hold a two-day meeting on the issue Feb. 26 and 27 in State College.