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There is gas drilling in the area - should I test my water?

What is Natural Gas Well Drilling? What is Fracking or Frack Fluid? I live in an area where seismic testing has begun to determine if the shale deposit will produce, should I be worried? No one tested my well water, am I located far enough from the drill site to be considered OK? These questions and more are being asked everyday in homes around the country and the answers that are given can be quite confusing to say the least, depending on who is providing the answers. The information here will help to answer some of these questions.

What is Natural Gas Well Drilling and Hydro-fracking?

In an attempt to develop new energy resources to help alleviate our dependence on foreign oil, researchers have found that deep inside the ground lie shale formations that when cracked, allows natural gas to flow to the surface. These shale formations which include Barnett, Marcellus and Utica are becoming household names because from these formations, is the anticipated energy resource of the future. Through modified drilling techniques, retrieval of the gas is relatively easy. All that's needed is your permission for the mineral rights, space on your property, a large pad and pit/catch basin. Oh and several million gallons of fresh water, sand and a few chemicals, and the gas is on its way.

Hydraulic-Fracturing or "fracking" for short is a process used to extract natural gas from shale deposits.  This process uses a mixture of water, sand and chemicals which is injected into a well to cause cracks or fissures in the shale formations deep inside the ground to allow the natural gas to rise to the surface, where it is captured and sent on to processing stations. During the drilling process, there are several levels of casings (metal and cement) added to the well protect water sources (aquifers) that reside above the actual shale formations to prevent possible contamination of those water resources.

These wells are drilled and filled with highly pressurized fluids which eventually bring back to the surface not only natural gas, but fluids used in the process, as well as additional contaminants that it picks up along the way. Recent findings indicate that some of these fracking fluids (or processed water) contain higher levels of naturally occurring contaminants like Radon, Uranium and other radiological contaminants.

There has been a lot of media attention given to the drilling/extraction process and the potential concerns for water contamination throughout the drilling/extraction process. Many claims regarding well contamination have been disputed due to the lack of historical well water testing information. This is entirely possible as many homeowners with private wells have neglected to test the water quality on a regular basis, so there is no evidence as to the water quality prior to drilling.  There are many contaminants that can be present in water but present no indication of their presence, so many people drink water that is contaminated without knowing.  The oil and gas industry is heavily regulated, and requirements includes robust well casing made of steel and cement which are to provide adequate protection of drinking water resources, making contamination not likely.  Most reports of water contamination that is related to gas & oil industry revolve around spills at the surface and disposal of flow-back water that comes back to the surface, after a well has been fractured.

How far away is too far away to have the water tested?

The more you know about your well water quality the better off as a homeowner you are at protecting your family. Even if there is no gas drilling in the area, anyone whose water comes from a private well should periodically test it to ensure that what their family is using is in fact safe for them.

For homeowners in gas well drilling areas, this is a question that should be answered very carefully. Each state mandates the gas drillers to test the water wells within a certain distances of a drill pad to a dwelling. In Ohio for example, Ohio Department of Natural Resources requires that gas drillers test the well water of anyone who is within 300 ft of a drill site. Pennsylvania on the other hand requires a distance of 1000 ft. The gas drillers will then hire a testing lab to run a series of tests and will report back to both the company and homeowner of the results. If you are a homeowner and are outside the preset distance requirement, than you're on your own. The drilling company is not required to test your water, in some cases they may test it, but for their use only.

Whether you are within the distance requirement or not, you should consider testing your water with an independent 3rd party state certified water testing laboratory to ensure that your water source is clean at the start and clean at the end. There are many contaminants that have no indicators that they are present in your water, unless you have it laboratory analyzed. Uranium, Radon, Strontium, Methane and Barium could contaminate your water and you would never know it.

Methane has small tell tale signs that it might be present if it was in the water. Water coming from the faucets that spit and sputter or bubbles that appear in the water that do not dissipate over time when left to sit on a counter. Methane levels can build up in your home if it's found in your water. Barium does not have an odor or taste; however, could make its presence known through strange physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal disturbances or muscle weakness. These are just two examples why you should know about your water!

As a homeowner, you have the right to protect your resources. If you hear that gas drilling is coming to town, get involved. When seismic testing begins, it's only a matter of time before the drilling will commence. You should test your water prior to any drilling activity and you should establish legally your baseline water quality. What does this mean? In order to use a water analysis in a litigation proceeding, there are several steps of the sampling process that have to be followed. Chain of custody (who sampled your water and all the hands that were involved reside on this document), this proves that the sample was taken properly, stored and transmitted properly as well as analyzed in accordance with the testing methods set forth in the Safe Drinking Water Act. The laboratory must be state certified; which means the laboratory has applied for and has received approval with the state that all test methods are in accordance with the application for certification. A lab approved sample collector must be used to take sample to ensure that the water is collected and transferred in accordance with the testing methods.

Baseline Water Quality testing comes in many sizes. There are tests that will check for the minimum contaminants that can be associated with gas drilling and there are tests that look specifically for chemicals that are involved in the fracking process. The costs associated with testing can vary greatly and additional costs for sample collection need to be calculated into your budget as well.

National Testing Laboratories - Baseline Water Quality Testing Packages

National Testing Laboratories has developed baseline water quality testing packages based on recommendations from Wilkes University, Penn State University and the Pennsylvania DEP. Packages have been developed for Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, West Virginia, New York, and Maryland. Three testing levels are available as well as additional add-on testing components. We have a recently developed a brochure (Baseline Water Quality Testing) that explains more about the testing if you are interested in learning more about our packages.

National Testing Laboratories is focused on the preservation of drinking water. We have been helping homeowners test their water quality for more than 25 years and hold certifications across the United States. If you would like to get more information about having National Testing Labs conduct your baseline water quality testing, please call one of our Technical Service Representatives at 1-800-458-3330 and they will be happy to help you with any water testing questions you might have.