Water use by Chesapeake Energy scrutinized




Posted on September 19, 2011 at 10:07 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 3:58 AM

ARLINGTON — Drilling companies are using millions of gallons of drinkable water as North Texans face water restrictions. Now one of those drillers is accused of crossing the line.

News 8 has learned that there's little to stop it from happening elsewhere.

Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Chesapeake Energy used and paid for more than 24 million gallons of water from Fort Worth city fire hydrants in July. That same month in Arlington, Chesapeake drew more than 37 million gallons of water.

Together, that's enough water to supply the entire city of Keller for two weeks.

The water is used for natural gas production. "Fracking" a natural gas well — the injection of water and sand into the shale to free the gas — can require around four million gallons of water per well.

While other business customers buy more water, it can be recycled back into the system. When gas companies are done, it's too polluted to easily salvage.

“Once it's removed, it's hauled off by a qualified disposal company,” said Jim Parajon, Community Development and Planning Director for the City of Arlington.

Up to this point, city leaders have said they have enough water to sell to the companies, to supply the drill sites in their respective cities.

But city leaders did not expect what happened in Arlington this summer.

"I got very upset with them, and they knew it,” said Mayor Robert Cluck. “I hope they don't do it again."

In August, Chesapeake filled water tanks at an Arlington drill site and took the water to a well site in Grand Prairie. Why? Because Grand Prairie would not sell its water due to the drought.

In all, they trucked away about 2.8 million gallons of Arlington’s water.

The city only found out what was happening after an alert citizen reported it.

Cluck said he doesn't believe Arlington has the water to supply drilling sites in other cities.

“I don't think we do,” Cluck said. “I think we can do our wells, but I don't want to do all of North Texas' wells, because we are in a very severe drought.”

In an e-mail to the city obtained by News 8, a Chesapeake staffer asked for a company legal review.

A Chesapeake spokesman later said the incident was a misunderstanding, and that Chesapeake will pay the anticipated city-issued fine, which is capped at $2,000.

"I called them and they told me that our ordinance did not cover the water; it said you could not take our meter to another city. Well, they knew what that meant,” Cluck said.

In Fort Worth, city leaders admit that legally, there's nothing to stop drillers from trucking millions of gallons of water out of the Fort Worth area.

“There’s nothing in the contract that prevents it,” said Fort Worth Water Department spokesman Mary Gugliuzza.

While Gugliuzza is not aware of any scenarios like the one in Arlington, she said, “That’s really something that’s difficult to police 100 percent.”

Fort Worth is now reviewing its water contracts with all commercial customers for potential changes.

Chesapeake told News 8 that what happened in Arlington is the exception and not the rule there, and that they adhere to the permits in the cities in which they operate.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com