MOUNDSVILLE-When Moundsville's reservoir dropped more than 10 feet in the course of a few days last month, officials began searching for what they believed would be a major water line leak.
What they didn't expect to find is that the water level drop would be from natural gas drilling companies using 9 million gallons of water as part of their hydraulic fracking operations.
City officials determined that two of the county's public service districts, PSD 3 and PSD 4, had sold the 9 million gallons of water to the drilling companies, which they are allowed to do. It appears the only mistake made is that the PSDs did not inform city officials of the water purchase, leaving Moundsville officials unaware that such a large volume of water would be drawn from the reservoir.
The PSDs purchase water from Moundsville and then sell that water to their customers - in this case, residents and businesses in the Forks Ridge and Roberts Ridge areas as well as portions of U.S. 250 in Marshall County. Moundsville City Manager Allen Hendershot said once a PSD purchases water from the city, the district is free to sell it to whomever it chooses.
"We were not prepared to handle that much (water) usage," Hendershot said, adding that the winter months are typically considered low usage months. "Had this happened in the summer, when we are prepared for high usage, it would have been (the PSDs) normal usage."
Hendershot did not know which gas drilling company purchased the water, or how much that company paid for the purchase. He said he believed the water was put into holding ponds and used for well fracking.
He added the city sells water to the PSDs at a reduced bulk rate and resale prices are set by the individual PSDs, though he was unsure of those prices. Messages left at the PSD 3 and PSD 4 offices were not immediately returned last week.
To make up for the reservoir's 9-million-gallon water loss, Hendershot said crews at the Moundsville Water Department opened additional wells and streamlined the process at the plant.
"We had fallen so far behind before we realized the issue and had to increase the production and take steps to get the reservoir back to normal," he said.
That included reducing the amount of water softening at the plant. The nano-flirtation system used for softening water is time consuming and produces a large amount of waste water in the process. Hendershot said as a result, citizens were not getting the type of water they were used to - meaning their water was harder than normal.
"We had to cut back on softening to make sure there was no excess water being wasted," he said. "The water was up to health standards and was perfectly fine, it just wasn't what we normally produce."
Hendershot said he has addressed the issue with officials from the PSDs, who have been told to inform the city when they intend to use a significant amount of water in a similar sale. He added he recently spoke to officials from gas drilling companies at a task force meeting and informed them of the city's concerns.
"They completely understood our concerns, but the oversight was not with them," he said. "Ultimately, it is the PSDs who are responsible, and they need to take steps to address a sale of this magnitude in advance the next time."
And a next time likely will happen, as drilling companies extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation use up to 5 million gallons of water per well as part of the hydraulic fracking process. Fracking takes place after gas drillers bore horizontal shafts deep into the earth. Millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are then forced down the hole at high pressure, which breaks apart the Marcellus Shale and releases some of the the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas trapped in the formation.