Tests of water wells near gas drilling sites generally didn't find detrimental changes in water quality, according to a new report issued by The Center for Rural Pennsylvania at Penn State University. However, scientists said more research is needed on the sources of methane in water wells.
The report 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.
According to the report, many of the problems had existed before drilling even started. About 40 percent of the wells failed at least one water quality test before gas drilling started. Most of the failing grades were due to higher than accepted levels of coliform bacteria and turbidity, or cloudiness. Some wells also showed methane before drilling. Pennsylvania is one of two states without standards for construction of private water wells.
Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for 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.
Despite the poor quality of some wells prior to drilling, not all issues can be linked to problems present before fracking operations began. The report found that bromide levels in some water wells increased after drilling 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.
Researchers suggest that landowners whose wells are within 3,000 feet of a shale drilling site be notified by certified letter of the planned activity. Current state law only requires that for well owners within 1,000 feet of a drilling operation.
The report found that more than 80 percent of well owners in Pennsylvania 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.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is funded by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.