So what is the impact at this point of gas drilling on Pennsylvania's water? Enormous media and public attention is focused on this question. The public correctly demands no compromises with its drinking water supplies.
First the good news.
In response to the NYT February 27th story, apparently eleven drinking water companies and providers have tested their drinking water for radionuclides and other contaminants and all eleven found no radionuclide pollution or other contamination from drilling or any other pollution source, according to statements made by DEP to the press.
Pennsylvania American Water Company did an exhaustive battery of testing at 5 of its drinking water plants in the Pittsburgh region and the results were that the water is safe and meets all health standards.
But unlike PAWC, the other companies that have tested don't seem to have released to the public their results. I urge DEP to release the names of all companies that have tested and the test results for each.
Given the on-going regular testing of drinking water by public drinking water systems and the stringent oversight of such testing, I am confident that Pennsylvania's drinking water provided by public drinking water systems is safe. And again recent extra testing that has confirmed drinking water is safe adds to my confidence.
If the water were not safe, the failure to test adequately or the failure to disclose such information immediately to the public could put in jail those responsible for not disclosing. And that is the way it should be.
Apart from drinking water companies, DEP itself in November 2010 did in stream testing for radionuclides in 7 counties and the results were negative or safe.
May 19th: Much Less Drilling Wastewater Is Being Discharged But What Is The Exact Status of Legacy Plants?
Secretary Krancer asked up to 16 plants that were discharging drilling wastewater without treatment for TDS to stop doing so by May 19th. A major reason for the Secretary's request was to reduce bromide loading.
A careful review of public statements and conversations with others indicates that up to 14 of the 16 plants complied with the Secretary's request by May 19th. Plants that treat drilling wastewater for recycling and reusing or fully for TDS report that the Secretary's request increased their business as drilling companies brought new volumes of wastewater to them for treatment.
The volumes of wastewater being discharged without TDS treatment since Secretary Krancer's request have apparently decreased significantly. But it is not clear exactly how many of the 16 plants that had been discharging stopped and how many did not by May 19th. I urge DEP to provide full information to the public.
Bottom line is that more water is being recycled, injected in deep wells , or fully treated and less is being discharged without treatment. Extra water testing has been performed to add to the normal intensive testing done by drinking water companies. Results confirm that Pennsylvania's drinking water at public water systems has been safe and remains safe.
Gas Migration And Private Water Wells
Gas migration from poorly constructed gas wells has caused the pollution with methane of probably about 30 to 50 private water wells in Pennsylvania. This is a real issue. The state of the art rules governing the construction of gas wells that were proposed in 2009 and became effective on February 5th, 2011 will reduce the incidence of gas migration if they are followed and enforced.
The gas that migrated from poorly constructed gas wells at least in the Dimock region was shallower gas encountered on the way to the Marcellus gas. Repairing or plugging gas wells can remove methane from a water well but can take considerable time to do so.
A renewed focus on stopping gas migration cases is needed.
No Frack Fluids Have Returned From Depth in Pennsylvania
No private water well or aquifer has been contaminated with frack fluids that have returned from depth to pollute ground water. The Duke University testing of 60 water wells where methane in some cases was present confirmed that no chemicals or frack fluids were in the private water wells. The Duke testing reached the same results as testing by the Department of Environmental Protection had reached.
The incredible focus on gas drilling and water is healthy as long as the discussion is factual, recognizes both the good news and the real remaining problems, and does not cause a collective ignoring of non-drilling threats to our waters that are in fact much greater.
There is enormous daily damage done to our waters by acid mine pollution, sewer overflows, run-off of sediment and other pollution from various lands and surfaces, oil spills and leaks, and mercury falling into it from old-coal fired power plants to name a few of the major non-drilling threats. We should also not forget the heat-trapping pollution that is increasing temperatures of waters and damaging whole ecosystems.
We must address all these long-standing, non-drilling threats to Pennsylvania's waters, while insuring that gas drilling is strongly regulated and that gas drilling does not cause even modest damage to our water.