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Private Water and Fracking, a Dubious Duo

The annual conference of the Marcellus Shale Coalition includes companies working at all stages of the gas drilling and fracking process. This year, their friends from the private water industry also joined. (Photo: Screenshot / Marcellus Shale Coalition)

Last week, I got to be a fly on the wall at Shale Insight 2015 in Philadelphia, the annual conference of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which includes companies working at all stages of gas drilling, fracking, processing and distribution As you can imagine, I heard some concerning things I while there, but among the more revealing “break-out sessions” was a love-fest between the oil and gas industry and private water industry, sponsored by American Water, the largest private water company in the country.

American Water has aggressively privatized water systems in Pennsylvania and sees dollar signs in the fracking industry’s relentless thirst for water — up to 10 million gallons of water to frack some wells.

Kathy Pape, Senior Vice President of American Water and head of the company’s Pennsylvania arm, chaired the session, titled “Working with Public Water Utilities: Reliable and Beneficial Water Sources for Hydraulic Fracturing.” In her opening remarks, she shared her disbelief that, years ago, American Water’s decision to sell water for fracking was actually a subject of heated debate within the company. Smiling from ear to ear, she explained how American Water “got over that hump” by making the argument that the company shouldn’t discriminate and not sell water to a sex shop, so it likewise ought not miss the opportunity to sell water to the fracking industry. Of course, unlike the fracking industry, sex shops don’t have a reputation of polluting drinking water.

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American Water, a company with a track record of raising water rates and providing poor customer service, seized the opportunity for a new source of revenue, and has partnered with Rex Energy and XTO, the latter being one of the largest shale gas producers in the country and a wholly owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil. The two industries have since fostered an unholy alliance based on profiting off of our shared resources. American Water has built water pipes and upgraded pumping stations to service the fracking industry. In recent years, American Water has earned about $3 million in revenue by selling 460 million gallons of water to Rex Energy to frack 88 wells in Pennsylvania.

The Rex Energy panelist explained the many benefits it reaps from the partnerships, saying “we were very grateful for private water.” The XTO engineer on the American Water-sponsored panel read his own lines somewhat flatly, stating “It’s been a great partnership and we are thankful” to American Water.

Though this partnership may be great if your goal is to generate profits, it is not in the best interest of Pennsylvania residents, who are concerned with ensuring safe affordable water for generations to come.

Hugh MacMillan

Hugh MacMillan is a senior researcher in the water program at Food & Water Watch. Previously he served one year as a legislative fellow and science advisor in the U.S. Senate and five years as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University. He has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He can be reached at hmacmillan(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

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