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Study: Gas Drilling Causes No Significant Changes in Water Quality in Nearby Wells

Fri November 04, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Kevin Begos

PITTSBURGH (AP) Tests of water wells near gas drilling sites generally didn’t find significant changes in water quality, according to a new report issued by The Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

But the report conducted by Penn State University scientists said more research is needed on the sources of methane in water wells. They noted that dissolved methane increased at one well near a drilling site and increases in bromide levels at numerous sites suggest more subtle impacts to groundwater from drilling operations. Bromides are salty elements that can combine with chlorine to create substances that can be harmful to people.

The report found that more than 80 percent of well owners had concerns about drilling and water quality, and that 33 of the 233 water supply owners in the study felt that some aspect of their well water changed as a result of nearby gas drilling.

But the report found that many problems had existed before drilling even started.

About 40 percent of the wells failed at least one water quality test before gas drilling occurred, mostly for coliform bacteria and turbidity, or cloudiness. The researchers noted that Pennsylvania is one of two states without standards for construction of private water wells. Some wells also showed methane before drilling.

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman of Range Resources, a drilling company, said the report showed that there’s a serious problem with pre-existing well contamination in Pennsylvania. He said many property owners are surprised to find their well water fails tests even before drilling begins, and noted that the state has failed to address the problems with rural wells for many years.

“In order to correct this issue you would have to enforce standards. It would cost money,” he said.

The new report found that only 20 percent of the wells in the study had a sanitary well cap, 13 percent had no visible well casing, and two percent were hand-dug.

The report found that bromide levels in some water wells increased after drilling and/or fracking and that those increases appeared to be mostly related to the gas drilling. A small number of wells also showed sediment and/or metals increases that appeared to be related to drilling.

The report also suggested that landowners whose wells are within 3,000 ft. (914 m) of a gas drilling site be notified by certified letter of that location. Current state law only requires that for people within 1,000 ft. (305 m).

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is funded by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

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