KALKASKA — A trio of deep fracking wells in Kalkaska County used 42 million gallons of water in the search for natural gas in the past two years, and one of the wells sets a state record for the longest in Michigan history, according to public documents and interviews.
The amount of groundwater drawn to feed a trio of Encana Oil & Gas wells in Excelsior Township could fill at least 63 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Water usage numbers are concerning to some environmental groups and county residents who live near the wells.
“They are gigantic water consumers, and there are enormous wells,” said Paul Brady, who lives a few miles from the wells. “I’m concerned about the water, just like everyone else should be.”
Water usage numbers are on a website called FracFocus, which allows energy companies to publicly document details of their wells, including water usage. The FracFocus website shows one of the Excelsior Township fracking wells -- state excelsior 3-25 HD-1 -- used 21.1 million gallons of water. Two other wells in the township used a combined 20.9 million gallons of water.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality monitors water use at the wells. DEQ officials said they usually expect a horizontal fracking well to use about 5 million gallons of water or more; the amount of water being used by Encana in Kalkaska County fits within the range of safe groundwater withdrawals predicted by a state of Michigan water resource assessment tool.
“We are monitoring it closely,” said Rick Henderson, a field operations supervisor for the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. “We have people out there all the time. We have no interest in doing anything to harm the environment. Our whole goal is to protect the public health, safety and the environment.”
Encana spokeswoman Bridget Ford said the company relied on the DEQ’s water resource assessment tool to “determine potential impacts to nearby water resources for the amount of water needed to drill our wells.” Ford said the horizontal drilling used in Kalkaska County allows the company to reach more natural gas and other resources while minimizing surface disturbance.
Erik Bauss is the Michigan field director for Energy In-Depth, launched in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Group membership includes smaller oil and gas producers. Bauss acknowledged higher water use numbers at the Kalkaska wells than what’s typically used in Michigan fracking wells. But Bauss contends today’s fracking technology eliminates the need for greater numbers of traditional wells that he said would use more water overall.
“We are producing a lot more gas with one well than we would be with 16 or so wells traditionally,” Bauss said. “We are using essentially less water to get more gas.”
Bauss said one of the wells in Kalkaska County is almost two miles long and sets the state’s record for the longest well, when vertical and horizontal length are combined.
Oil and gas companies applied for at least 14 new fracking permits in northern Michigan counties as of October 2012. Ten of the applications are for natural gas wells in Kalkaska County alone, where an unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent has county leaders on the constant search for new industry and jobs.