East Palestine officials looking for ways to benefit financially from shale boom

EAST PALESTINE – Time may be money, but water is money too-if it’s accessible.

Water in the lake near the old electric plant could be sold to oil and gas drilling companies, Councilman and Finance Committee Chairman Jim Tyger said recently.

Tyger floated the idea to council after first speaking with a resident who works in the drilling industry, and after reading an article in the newspaper about Columbiana County Commissioners selling water from Cold Run Creek to Chesapeake Operating.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck signed the five-year agreement this month on behalf of commissioners. The county will earn $5 for every 1,000 gallons taken from the stream. That water will be used in the drilling process at a nearby shale gas well site.

Tyger said he has been trying to think of ways the village can earn revenue without imposing taxes and believed selling the water is worth looking into.

“The county is selling water out of a stream to Chesapeake so I thought to myself, ‘If the county can do that out of a stream why couldn’t we do that out of a lake?'” he said.

He isn’t sure exactly how many gallons of water the lake currently holds, but recalls the water was used at one time to cool down the electric plant when it was operating.

He doesn’t believe taking water from the lake would drain it, although he isn’t sure Leslie Run could sustain the removal.

The lake is fed by Leslie Run, the small stream that flows past the wastewater treatment plant near Park Drive. One concern he had is that the Environmental Protection Agency could halt any water removal should any wetlands be involved, however.

“I know the EPA is big on wetlands and if we started pumping a lot of water out of there it could involve wetlands because it’s swampy back in there,” he said.

Councilman Fran Figley thinks selling the water could be beneficial, but doesn’t see it as being feasible at this point.

“If you look at the lake there is no place to accommodate the trucks … I talked to somebody about it before and there is no place to pull the trucks off, and they have to have a facility,” he said.

He said he spoke with an MS Consultants employee and another man who works for a company that provides services to oil well drillers about the potential to sell water from the lake.

“They came down and looked at the site and weren’t interested. It just doesn’t look advantageous at this time,” he said.

He and Tyger have been keeping their eyes on a business near the local country club that has sold its water to fracking companies.

“They have room for 20 trucks at one time to back in there … there has to be a natural spring down there as many gallons as they haul out of that thing,” Tyger said.

The company is XL Sand & Gravel, which has an address in Negley just outside of town.

Tyger said he doesn’t think the village has the money to make similar accommodations, but isn’t giving up on the idea.

“I was just throwing something out there to make people think. I’ve been racking my brains for years to think of things we could do as a city without taxing anybody. I think people are taxed to death all over this country,” he said.

The idea to sell water isn’t necessarily new.

He said when Gary Clark was village manager and Raymond “Sunny” Hull was mayor they discussed selling treated water from the village plant, but tossed the idea after learning it would put stress on the plant’s pumps.

“We’ve looked at their (Chesapeake’s) contracts in the past, and they are very demanding. It’s not an ‘Oh we don’t have water today’ thing, if they want 10 trucks there you’re filling them up, and we just didn’t think our pumps could stand that pressure,” he said.