Test well water before Marcellus Shale gas drilling begins, experts advise

Date: April 6, 2010

April 5, 2010

EILEEN GODIN Times Leader Correspondent

Well-water testing in advance of natural gas drilling operations in parts of Luzerne County could give homeowners with wells knowledge, a baseline for future testing and a legal leg to stand on if their water becomes tainted, some experts say.

Marcellus Shale gas drilling is coming into Luzerne County this summer. EnCana Oil and Gas USA Inc., based in Denver, Colo., will be starting a site in Lake Township off Zosh Road in June or July.

Drilling could also be coming to other mostly Back Mountain area communities. Some area groups have voiced strong opposition to the drilling, and some landowners in counties where drilling is already taking place have said their water wells have been inversely affected by gas drilling activities.

EnCana Community Relations Adviser Wendy Wiedenbeck said her company has drilled 8,700 gas wells and has not had “any instance of well water becoming contaminated.” She said EnCana takes great pains not to damage water wells.

“It is in our best interests not to impact water supplies,” she said. Wiedenbeck said that besides using the standard cement casing at the gas-drilling site to protect underground water sources, a second cement casing will be used for added protection.

She said the casings are inspected regularly throughout the life of the well.

Encana\’s zero tolerance of spills means its employees are specially trained for operating valves at drilling operations or transporting liquids, she said.

All spills are reportable, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency has a toll-free line to report them at (877) 919-4372.

“We are very proud of our environmental record,” she said.

To be prepared, residents within a mile radius of the drilling sites are advised to have their well water tested, Wiedenbeck said.

The trick is knowing what kind of testing is needed and the proper way to take a sample.

Aqua-Tech Laboratory Director Joseph F. Calabro, Mountain Top, said well water owners should have a state Department of Environmental Protection-certified lab do the testing. Someone who is certified with the lab should draw the water and a chain of custody for the water sample should be followed, he said.

A chain of custody for the sample is a log that is signed and dated by the person taking the water sample and given to the lab, where it is signed and dated upon receipt. Calabro said this log will stand up in court.

A listing of state-certified labs, by county, can be found at http://water.cas.psu.edu. Click on “information” on water issues related to Marcellus drilling. Then, on the right side of the screen, click on “find a lab.”

Calabro said homeowners should know what is normally in their well water. He said small amounts of minerals such as barium, sodium, manganese and iron, are already in well water, along with many other minerals.

He said that once this baseline for what\’s in the water is established, then testing for industry-specific indicators can be performed.

He advised that if homeowners notice a change in taste, clarity or smell of their water, they should have it tested right away.

Concerned that nervous residents could be charged for more testing that what is really needed, he said he is willing to attend municipal meetings to discuss minerals and industry-specific indicators to watch for.

Wilkes University geologist Brain Ora said he is hoping homeowners will be willing to share their testing results to compile a database, by zip code, to show water quality history. He said that over time the database will track changes of water quality.

Copyright: The Times Leader

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.