Oil and gas drilling prompts city to conduct study sooner.
The city relies exclusively on a ground water to supply residents and businesses and is near the epicenter of increasing Utica Shale drilling activity.
That’s why Water Department Superintendent Tyler S. Converse says it’s worth the $498,600 to hire – and to hire now – an environmental consultant to study the city’s three aquifers.
Canton City Council voted unanimously Monday on the contract, which will be paid for from the water department enterprise fund.
Converse says it’s a small price to pay considering that the water system is one of the city’s top assets.
“The cost is relative,” he said. “If you look at just our infrastructure, it’s probably $250 million ...that’s what the system is worth without the valuable aquifers themselves.”
Converse said the study is necessary regardless of other factors, but that ramped-up drilling activity has “pressed the need to do it now.” The oil and gas industry has spent billions of dollars leasing mineral rights from landowners in eastern Ohio to drill in the previously untapped Utica Shale formation.
Two of the city-owned water plants are located in Canton on Harrisburg Road NE and on 38th Street NW. The third is on state Route 212 in Sugar Creek Township. They were put into operation between 1959 and 1967.
Converse said traditional oil wells have long existed in and around all of the aquifers. However, in Tuscarawas County there is a new unconventional oil well a few miles from the Sugar Creek aquifer, he said.
Westerville-based Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultants will study and rank all potential contaminants that could come from places like highways, railroads, industries or former landfills and leach into the aquifers within one- and five-year periods.
The company will work with a source water protection committee appointed by the city to determine ways to reduce the risk of contamination, a task that could include reviewing zoning codes and ordinances. It will also develop a Microsoft Access water quality database and three-dimensional models of the three well fields. The Sugar Creek well field was modeled 17 years ago. The two other well fields have never been modeled in three dimensions.
The city provides water to an estimated 120,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Canton, Beach City, East Canton, Hartville and Jackson, Perry and Plain townships.
Safety-Service Director Warren Price said earlier this month that it is “somewhat rare” to rely exclusively on a ground-source water system, as most communities rely on some combination of ground and surface water. Price said Canton has one of the largest ground-based systems in the state.
In related business, council gave first reading to an ordinance that will allow the city to buy a 44.5-acre parcel and mineral rights for land near its northeast water plant on Harrisburg Road NE. Diano Realty Corp. will sell the land to the city for $437,000. The city has the option to buy an additional 4.15 acres. The city has given similar explanations for buying the land – that it wants to protect the aquifer, in part, from the drilling boom, and to have additional space to dispose of clean fill.