CADIZ - Some area residents depend on Harrison County's rich freshwater resources for clean drinking water, but some believe the Utica and Marcellus shale drilling rush may pose a risk to these springs and streams.
"In Harrison County, a lot of people depend on springs for their water. This is the first risk for one of these springs to be contaminated," said Charles Fisher, administrator of the Harrison County Health Department. "Everyone is working really hard to figure out what is going on to prevent it from becoming a larger problem."
The problem, as described by Fisher and local organic farmer John M. Luber, is that a stream near Fife Road that empties into Tappan Lake becomes discolored during periods of rainfall or melting snow. The stream is located near the Chesapeake Energy Dodson well site, Fisher said. Both he and Luber emphasize the pollution did not happen until drilling operations began.
"I have talked to Chesapeake. They have been very cooperative," Fisher said. "When it comes to the actual drilling operations, they believe there is no risk."
"Perhaps when they laid the pad, they may have impacted the source of the water," Fisher noted. "This is not normal - and it appears to be related to this activity."
Fisher said the contaminant appears to be crushed limestone, also known as calcium carbonate. Though he does not consider this material hazardous, he said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency considers any substance that causes a stream to become unclear to be a pollutant.
"It is a source of pollution. It is not a significant pollutant, but we need to make sure we can get a handle on this now because of all the drilling taking place in our county," Fisher said.
Natural gas companies now active in Harrison County include Chesapeake, Hess Corp., Gulfport Energy, XTO Energy and Oxford Oil Co. The county is also home to the ever-expanding $500 million MarkWest Energy processing plant and a portion of the $900 million M3 Midstream processing.
Fisher said he is taking the problem "very seriously" as he works with state regulators to address the matter. Luber filed an official complaint with Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally regarding the problem.
Agency spokesman Mike Settles said the EPA is aware of the situation.
"It looked like it was related to limestone used to build the drilling pad. The company has assured us they will no longer allow stormwater to run off the site," Settles said of Chesapeake.
"The stream that this tributary runs into also runs through my farm, below my fields, and ultimately this tributary runs into Tappan Lake. The contamination will degrade the quality of the watershed," Luber wrote.
Luber said he first discovered the stream "running white" while walking down the road on Dec. 11. Later, he said he saw the "white liquid" at the Chesapeake well site. "The white water was coming out of the sides of the hills about 75-100 feet below the well pad," he said.
Pete Kenworthy, spokesman for Chesapeake's Ohio operations, could not be reached for comment.
"The main concern is to protect the springs. What happens if something more hazardous would start seeping into the streams?" Fisher said.