Penn State Research on Marcellus Gas Drilling and Private Water Wells

Posted: June 27, 2010

Impacts of Marcellus drilling on rural drinking water continues to be a significant concern of many landowners and local officials. Penn State research now underway will examine the effects of drilling on groundwater and drinking water supplies.
courtesy of B. Swistock

courtesy of B. Swistock

Penn State’s School of Forest Resources along with several county offices of Penn State Cooperative Extension have received funding from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center to conduct a research study on the potential impacts of Marcellus gas drilling on rural drinking water supplies.  The objectives of this research are to determine the occurrence of groundwater contamination near Marcellus gas drilling sites, study the factors that are related to contamination (if it occurs), and survey water supply owners to document their experiences with gas drilling and water issues. 

The first phase of the project will involve intensive monitoring of 50 to 60 private water wells located within approximately 2,000 feet of an active Marcellus drilling site.  Penn State researchers will visit each site before and after drilling activity to collect water samples for analysis of 15 inorganic and organic parameters.  The water supply owner will also keep a daily record of total dissolved solids concentrations in their water supply using a simple TDS meter.  Participants will be asked to complete a short survey at the end of the study about their experiences with nearby gas well drilling. 

The second phase of the project will involve broad testing for four indicator parameters on approximately 200 private water wells located within 5,000 feet of a completed Marcellus gas well site.  Participants in this phase of the study will need to attend a local workshop to receive water testing kits and instructions.  They will also need to supply pre-drilling water test results for these four parameters for comparison with post-drilling data.  Participants in this phase of the study will complete the same survey about their experiences with nearby gas drilling.   

Comparison of pre- and post drilling water quality along with daily TDS readings and survey results will be used to document potential impacts from drilling on groundwater supplies in this study.  The results will be used to create educational materials for private water supply owners and to recommend potential policy considerations to protect private water wells near Marcellus drilling activity.  The study final report will be completed in mid 2011.  

Penn State staff involved in this project are: Bryan Swistock (PSU School of Forest Resources), Dana Rizzo (Westmoreland County Cooperative Extension), Jim Clark (McKean County Cooperative Extension), and Mark Madden (Sullivan County Cooperative Extension)