Altoona, PA – The Taj Mahal of Water

Water Authority Sells Susquehanna Waters to Gas Drillers at $.005 a Gallon…
A few months ago, Chief Oil & Gas was approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to withdrawal 250,000 gallons a day to Chief Oil & Gas so they could frack up to 16 gas wells in the Blue Knob area near Altoona, PA. In April, the Altoona Mirror reported on what happens to a town when its Water Authority sells its water to gas companies. Because we have weak state laws protecting watershed regions, similar scenarios are occurring in small towns across the state. Residents around Altoona will see their streams and wells dry up, while the local Water Authority inhabits an impressive new office building, none-to-affectionately dubbed “the Taj Mahal” by local residents. Reporter William Kibler paints a dismal portrait…
“Water Authority Agreement Could Yield Up to $880,000”
By William Kibler, The Altoona Mirror, April 9, 2011
The agency that collects the water that tumbles freely down the mountain to our west has finally gotten permission to sell some of that water to a firm that’ll use it to unlock another natural resource trapped in rock a mile beneath the surface of that mountain.
A few weeks ago, the Altoona Water Authority obtained a consumptive use permit from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to sell up to 250,000 gallons a day to Chief Oil & Gas for hydrofracture of perhaps 16 gas wells in the Blue Knob area.
With an estimated 5 million gallons needed per well, the arrangement could generate as much as $880,000 for the authority.
“We broke it through,” said Rich Adams, environmental compliance manager for Chief’s Appalachian operations. “Altoona will be our preferred source, because it’s the closest.”
The authority tried to get permission a year ago, but the commission, working with the state Department of Environmental Protection, denied the request because it hadn’t submitted an overdue drought contingency plan.
The agencies demand the plan to ensure the authority isn’t selling water for gas extraction that might be needed by regular customers during times of shortage.
The authority finished the drought plan, but DEP also demanded a reservoir management plan, according to Jim Balliet, authority consulting engineer with Gwin Dobson & Foreman.
It took awhile, but Balliet eventually convinced DEP that a completed reservoir plan wasn’t necessary.
“We have a schedule to submit it and quite a bit of time [remaining until it’s due], and it’s far along,” he said.
“[Besides,] 250,000 gallons a day isn’t a dent in their capacity,” Adams said.
The authority has a water allocation permit to draw 14.5 million gallons a day but produces only 10 million gallons, having drastically reduced system leakage in recent years.
There’s a provision in the Chief agreement that exempts the authority from providing water if there’s a shortage due to drought or other cause, Balliet said.
“The people come first,” he said.
The authority spent about $5,000 to set up a filling station in a water yard parking lot at North Branch Avenue and 19th Street.
There’s a hydrant, a meter and two large, roll-off rental tanks.
Chief’s subcontractors provide all the manpower, turning on the hydrant in the morning to keep the tanks full, as a succession of 4,500-gallon straight tank trucks draw them down, authority General Manager Mark Perry and Water Maintenance Supervisor Tim Manly said.
The tankers travel up 17th Street to Interstate 99 on their way to Blue Knob, discharging into a 7 million gallon fresh-water-only impoundment, Perry and Adams said.
At Blue Knob, there are four wellbeds of about five acres each, a mile or so apart, spread out over 10 square miles, Adams said. Each wellbed has a capacity of four or five wells.
Chief has drilled about five wells so far and has “fracked” two, but hasn’t hooked those up to a transmission pipeline, Adams said.
When fracking, workers pump a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into the horizontally drilled wells, breaking up the Marcellus Shale formation, according to a Chief website.
Because of the delay in permitting, Chief drew the water for the first two frackings from Clearfield Creek in Boggs Township, Clearfield County.
Adams isn’t sure when the rest of the fracking will take place. It will depend on the availability of a fracking company and details of Chief’s strategic plan.
In addition to building a network of pipes to connect the wells to the regional transmission line, Chief will need to build a compressor station at that point to bring the pressure up to about 1,000 pounds per square inch, matching that of the transmission line, Adams said.
The gas is sold at that point, Adams said.
It can take three or four months between the start of drilling and sales, according to the website.
When in full production, the Blue Knob wells should produce millions of cubic feet per day for 15 to 20 years, Adams said.
Five million cubic feet of natural gas has the energy equivalent of 883 barrels of oil.
Companies refrack wells when they grow sluggish, after maybe five or 10 years, Perry said.
Chief reuses all frack water that returns to the surface, storing it in tanks placed above lined spillage lagoons, Adams said.
Because only 10 percent of frack water returns, rather than the expected 33 percent, the demand for fresh water is greater than expected, Adams said.
Chief has provided a bond guaranteeing repairs on any street damaged caused by the trucks, city Public Works Director Dave Diedrich said.
It will take about 17,000 truckloads to deliver the 80 million gallons the company may need.
Chief takes full responsibility for all road damage, Adams said.
The authority is charging Chief $4.30 to $5.70 per 1,000 gallons, plus a $25-per-truck service fee, Perry said.
Chief likes to buy from public water systems to benefit the community, because the water is always available and because there are no pumps to worry about or concerns about keeping tanks unfrozen, Adams said.
Two other gas firms have contacted the authority to buy water, Perry said.
The authority is considering another location outside the city for a fill station, he said.
“We’re grateful to get a piece of this,” Perry said.

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One Response to “Altoona, PA – The Taj Mahal of Water”

  1. Julie A. Edgar Says:

    Horrible! i just testified to the SRBC TODAY in Harrisburg why they should impose an immediate moratorium on issuing any further permits for water withdrawals for fracking, at LEAST until a cumulative impact study has been done. (i would rather ban fracking altogether!) so i get this Groupon offer for Omni Bedford Springs Resort, and it says “Blue Knob State Park nearby”, so search on whether there is fracking in that park, and i got this page! wow, criminal misappropriation of both PUBLIC water AND PUBLIC land going on in Pennsylvania!

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