Your Private Drinking Water and the Natural Gas Industry
Posted: July 17, 2011
Excerpted from the Clinton County Natural Gas Task Force (www.clintoncountypa.com ) weekly columns
At Penn State Extension’s programs that focus on protection and testing of private water supplies near natural gas drilling, Bryan Swistock, water resource extension specialist provides valuable information and practical advice for people interested in protecting their private drinking water supplies. Knowing the quality of your home well or spring water before natural gas drilling is critical to knowing if that quality changes or is impacted by natural gas drilling (or any other factors, for that matter). Swistock says if you want to legally document your water quality prior to any drilling occurring, you need to use a third-party, state-certified test lab. Importantly, he says that many drilling companies conduct what is called “pre-drilling survey” water testing.
“This is a survey of drinking water supplies in the vicinity of the natural gas drill site. The survey is not actually performed by the drilling company, but by a third-party, accredited testing firm,” says Swistock. “If you are asked to participate in such a survey, it’s in your best interest to do so, since the drilling company will pay for the water test.”
Swistock says people always have the option of paying for their own water testing. He says there are several factors to consider.
As far as “what” to test for when testing your drinking water supply, Swistock recommends a tiered approach. “There’s no perfect answer, but I suggest setting some priorities – ask yourself what is most critical to test for and start there. Prioritize and determine what you can afford to test for. If you are financially able to do more, there are some additional parameters you could consider.”
Once you’ve decided to have your drinking water tested, and have determined what to test for, understanding the results can be complex. Swistock says the report you will receive from the certified testing lab is considered a legal document, and it can be difficult to understand what the numbers mean.
“Many Penn State Cooperative Extension offices have both the people resources and informational materials to help people better understand their water test results. In fact, there’s an on-line form to help people interpret test results. You can also ask the lab that conducted the test if they will explain the results to you,” says Swistock.
Swistock also provided a number of informational web sites. He said the eNotice web site at www.dep.state.pa.us/enotice/ allows people to sign up to receive e-mail notices when drilling is going to occur in a specific municipality or county.
Swistock says there are a number of pro-active measures people can take to protect their drinking water. For people leasing land to drillers, he recommended several stipulations that should be included as part of the lease. He also urged people to report problems and concerns to the PA Department of Environmental Protection, which has regulatory oversight for the natural gas activities in the region.
In addition, Swistock says researchers at Penn State University, through the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, have begun natural gas-related research to monitor drinking water wells and gather data.
Swistock finishes his presentations by noting the vast amount of information that is available from the Extension Office. He encouraged people to visit their web site at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas