Water lures drillers

LISBON – Hilcorp Energy Corp. wants to use Willow Grove Park as part of a plan to remove water from the Middle Fork of the Little Beaver Creek for fracking a nearby well.

Steve Burgess, a right-of-way agent for a company representing Hilcorp, attended Tuesday’s Village Council meeting to gauge the interest in granting them permission to use the park to get at the creek. Hilcorp, the nation’s third largest private oil and gas exploration and production company, is planning to drill a well just west of the park and outside of town on the Ramsey farm.

“It’s not something we need immediately because we’re just starting,” he told council, adding they would not be in a position to begin fracking for six or seven months.

The operation would include placing a pump in the creek and then running a line either along or under the park road to transfer the water to the drilling site.

“Who owns the water in the creek?” asked Councilwoman Mary Ann Gray.

Councilman Jeff Snyder said the creek is considered a natural resource and no one owns the water. Other companies have been removing water from other locations along the Little Beaver Creek.

When asked how much Hilcorp would pay for an easement, Burgess said the going rate is $3 per foot of pipeline and $500 for the pump, but the company would be willing to “go above and beyond that to make it worth your while.”

When Snyder asked if the company would be willing to improve the park road as part of the deal, Burgess replied, “That is something we can discuss … Hilcorp is very interested in being a good neighbor.”

Burgess said 1.5 million to 2 million gallons of water per day are needed to frack the well, and some councilmen expressed concern about the impact it would have on the creek.

“I wouldn’t want to see it go dry,” said Council President Roger Gallo.

Burgess said their engineering firm is studying the issue and will only remove water during high-flow periods, which is why nothing would likely occur before spring.

Village Solicitor Virginia Barborak recommended they contact the Little Beaver Creek Wild and Scenic Advisory Committee since a portion of the Middle Fork is designated a state and/or national river. Burgess said he would do that.

“The last thing we want is someone out there holding picket signs saying, ‘Don’t take our water,'” he said.

Gallo also asked if Hilcorp might be interested in leasing village land for oil and gas exploration, and Burgess said that is possible. He said the company is currently purchasing existing leases from Chesapeake Exploration to create drilling units.

The village was slow to get in on the leasing frenzy of recent years, and when it finally received a top-dollar offer of $5,200 per acre, the company pulled the offer, and Barborak has recommended waiting until the prices go back up.