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Your Private Drinking Water and the Natural Gas Industry

Posted: July 10, 2011

Part one of a two-part article on considerations for private drinking water wells and natural gas drilling

Drilling for natural gas in central Pennsylvania has brought a range of economic benefits to the region, but has also raised environmental concerns.  One question many people have is, how will gas drilling impact water wells and springs that many people use as their source of drinking water. 

 

At a recent presentation that focused on protection and testing of private water supplies near natural gas drilling.  Bryan Swistock, water resource extension specialist with Penn State’s School of Forest Resources, was a key presenter at the meetings and provided valuable information and practical advice for people interested in protecting their private drinking water supplies. 

 

Swistock began his remarks by providing some statistics on the vast number of homes, farms and camps in Pennsylvania – more than one million -- that use water wells and springs as their drinking water source. 

 

Swistock said many issues – separate from natural gas drilling activities – can be found with private water systems.  Some typical problems that have existed for many years include improperly sealed well caps, animals nesting inside the well system, and housing pets or other items near the well caps. 

 

 “Many people are having their well water tested before Marcellus Shale drilling near their water supply, and they are finding a range of issues that had existed but that they weren’t aware of because their water supplied hadn’t been tested before,” says Swistock.  “One of the most common pre-existing problems is corrosiveness in the water supply, and other common issues include hard water, coliform bacteria, iron, low pH, and E. coli bacteria.”

 

Separate from the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, Swistock recommends having your private water supply tested, if only for your own comfort, health and safety.  He said testing is even more important if there is natural gas drilling that will be taking place in the vacinity of your water supply.

 

Swistock is a proponent of having your private drinking water tested.  “Water testing helps document any problems you may have in general with your water – and there are many pre-existing problems, such as corrosiveness, hard water, iron, and different bacteria, that are common to our area.  Having your water tested helps document your water quality.”

 

He recommends having your water tested by a state-certified laboratory as a way of educating yourself on the quality of your water.  If natural gas drilling is going to take place near your water supply, thorough third-party testing also offers some legal documentation.

 

Swistock does not recommend testing the water yourself since tests taken without a certified chain-of-custody or conducted by non-certified labs will not be considered as valid tests in a court of law.

 

“Companies that offer what’s called ‘chain-of-custody’ testing through state accredidated laboratories will provide you with results that will be considered a legal document,” says Swistock.

 

Swistock encourages people to make sure their water supply is properly constructed -- including having the water well casing located above ground, installing a sanitary water well cap, etc.  And he says people should designate a “water supply protection area” – a buffer of at least 100 feet around the water supply source – to limit anything that might negatively impact the quality of your water.

 

With regard to natural gas drilling, Swistock says there are regulations currently in place that are designed to protect drinking water supplies.  Swistock says the state currently is proposing several new regulations, as well as revisions to some of the existing regulations.  He adds that property owners can also attempt to negotiate their own water testing requirements as part of any lease agreements with natural gas interests.

 

“For example, the current setback requires that any natural gas well be situated at least 200 feet away from a water supply.  You could make the distance farther away as part of your lease with the drilling company.”

 

Swistock also listed some environmental issues with private water supplies that can occur during the process of drilling for natural gas.

 

Another issue is the presence of methane in drinking water supplies.  Swistock says methane is not a drinking hazard, but it is an explosion hazard.

 

Excerpted  from the Clinton County Natural Gas Task Force (www.clintoncountypa.com ) weekly columns