KALKASKA — Truckloads of municipal water recently were carted to a Kalkaska County natural gas well when there wasn’t enough groundwater to fracture the bedrock.
Encana Oil and Gas Inc. spokesman Doug Hock said the company purchased about 3 million gallons of water from the villages of Kalkaska and Mancelona over a six-day period last week. He said this was the first time in Michigan the company had to purchase municipal water for a fracking operation.
“Essentially, our objective is always to use water wells drilled right on site,” he said. “In this particular case we ran into some issues. The geology was tougher than anticipated.”
Fracking has come under national scrutiny from environmentalists who say the process can put surrounding water supplies at risk. Jacque Rose, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Au Gres-Rifle Watershed, said the situation at the Rapid River Township fracking well highlights the need for more safeguards.
“This water withdrawal plan was conceived completely on the fly,” she said. “It’s just not how it’s supposed to go.”
Onsite water wells initially were expected to produce about 900 gallons of water per-minute when the Rapid River Township fracking operation started May 31. Hock said it took longer than anticipated to reach that mark and municipal water was used to fill the gap. Work ended over the weekend.
Encana contractors directly tapped into Kalkaska and Mancelona hydrants. Jim MacQuarrie, administrator for the Mancelona Area Water & Sewer Authority, would not provide usage numbers without a public records request, but said the company paid the standard rate of $1.73 per 1,000 gallons of Mancelona water. Kalkaska officials did not return calls for comment on usage.
Kalkaska Village President Jeff Sieting said the village council is discussing a proposal on set procedures for selling municipal water to fracking operations.
”In light that fracturing for natural gas is on the horizon, we probably need to put in place some protocols,” he said.
Sieting said environmental concerns involving fossil fuels always existed. He wants to make sure water draws don’t affect municipal water quality or pressure.
Hock said Encana’s subcontractors used trucks that previously only hauled fresh water and had check valves to prevent backflow into municipal water. He said it was not uncommon for fracking operations in other states to transport water to well sites, but companies avoid this because of truck traffic.
Rose said two other fracking operations in Missaukee and Roscommon counties also recently had insufficient onsite water.
Chris Grobbel, an environmental consultant in Traverse City, said the situation calls into question the usefulness of the Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, a state government-derived formula that determines the impact of water withdrawal on nearby streams and rivers.
”It’s completely worthless,” he said.