DEP Releases File – 243 Cases Where Natural Gas Development Impact Private Wells Pennsylvania

This story was released on August 28, 2014 by the Associated Press.  The link to the story is “Online list IDs water wells harmed by drilling”  (Looks like article was removed- 9/28/2014).   First- I am not a fan of the title, but the list does provide insights into the number of private wells that the PADEP has concluded were directly influenced by oil and gas development in Pennsylvania during the period from 2008 to 2014-  Regional_Determination_Letters .   Also, this story was pre-dated by a very good story in the Sunday Times in May 19, 2013.

May 2013 Story

As of May 2013, the PADEP had determined that 161 private wells had been adversely impacted by oil and natural gas development in PA over the period from 2008 to 2o12. But during this period, over 1000 cases or problems with private wells were evaluated.   A quote from the article

“Inspectors declared the vast majority of complaints – 77 percent of 969 records – unfounded, lacking enough evidence to tie them definitively to drilling or caused by a different source than oil and gas exploration, like legacy pollution, natural conditions or mining.  One in six investigations across the roughly five-year period – 17 percent of the records – found that oil and gas activity disrupted water supplies either temporarily or seriously enough to require companies to replace the spoiled source.”

Question Number 1 – what caused or is causing 77% of the problem? – Is this NOT important?  Answer – NO one seems to be asking.
Question Number 2 – How many were temporary?

Statement 1: The 2013 and 2014 article proves what we have been saying since 2009.  Oil and gas development has the potential to adversely impact private wells.  The cause is most likely related or associated with drilling, methane migration associated with cementing / casing issues, spills, pipeline construction (shallow excavation) and the use of impoundments to store waste. We have been saying this since 2009 and so has the PADEP.   Also, we recommended baseline testing parameters based on the pathways that were cited and suspected.

Statement 2:  The common problems appear to be methane, Lower Explosion Limit, iron, manganese, aluminum, arsenic, and turbidity. We included these parameters in our baseline testing list, plus saline water indicates such as bromide and lithium well before PADEP, PSU, and others.

Statement 3: No credible source has ever said Oil and Gas Development could not adversely impact a private well.  What has been said – there is not evidence that that hydraulic fracturing portion of the development has caused a problem.  There has been many historic cases related to loss of circulation during drilling, mud migration, spills, surface disturbance, methane gas migration because of cement issues, spills, and releases from impoundments.

August 2014 Story

Statement 1:  After looking at the 2014 article and the individual determination letters from PADEP for the Eastern Portion of Pennsylvania  (excluding the first 19 because this is the Dimock Data- We Did a Well by Well Evaluation of the EPA Dimock Data)- we found the following:

Eastern Data Set –

Stated Cause
Drilling – 84
Impoundment Leak – 1
Spill/ Surface Containment Issue – 1
LEL – > 10% LEL in wellhead – 4

Presumption – The Operator was presumed to be at fault – 20 %
Temporary Problem that resolved – 26 %  (but still a problem for a period of up to a year)

Methane at any level – 78 cases
Methane > 28 mg/L – 24 cases
Methane > 10 mg/L – 68 cases
Methane < 10 mg/L – 6 cases
Methane < 5 mg/L – 2 cases

Iron – 30 cases – 28 %
Manganese – 41 cases – 38 %
Aluminum – 15 cases – 14%
Barium – 3 cases – 2.8 %
Total Dissolved Solids -TDS – 4 cases – 3.7 %
Chloride – 2 cases – < 2 %
Zinc – 1 case – < 1 %

From a review of the letters of determination, it appears that the PADEP made the determination in less than 2 months.  I believe there is a regulatory requirement to make a determination in 45 days or less.

Other Interesting Notes

1. In one well the methane ranged from 0.29 to 148 mg/L
2. Two cases wellhead LEL was the determining factor and in one case the methane level in water was less than 2 mg/L – probably a venting issue.
3. Two springs were impacted.
4. Barium – two cases had pre-drill problems.
5. Only 1 case where organics were the issue – associated with a fire suppression activity because of loss of control at the wellhead.  Suppressant was used at the surface.

What this tells us:
1. Most of the problems appear to be related to iron and manganese – these makes it difficult because it is a common and intermittent water quality problem in the region.
2. Methane is another factor – but it is critical to document both methane and all other gas issues and LEL levels.
3. Other parameters of importance include aluminum (we recommend in 2009) and barium, chloride, total dissolved solids, and zinc.
4. The process seems to work, but it would be great to have access to the raw data.

Again – trying to provide a fact based review of the information and use wisely.  The main questions:
1. How many other wells reported a problem?
2. How many of these wells had a problem unrelated to oil and gas development?  What was the cause?
3. How many private wells were impacted by other permitted activities or road salting efforts over the period from 2008 to 2014?

Final Question – If we do not create private well construction standards and fix the poorly constructed private wells – Will we really Ever Control this Potential Pathway for Groundwater Contamination.

Action You can Take!

1. Get your Well Water Baseline Testing Completed.
2. Have the data reviewed.
3. Release the Data -Data Only to the Citizens Database
4. Learn the Facts and Monitor Your Well Water Quality – Work as a Community!
5. Support the Keystone Clean Water Team – Facebook, Twitter, and maybe a Donation?


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