Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Statement About Drilling's Impacts on Pennsylvania's Waters

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.


  1. Recycling the fracking water makes the most sense economically - the chlorides contribute to fracking efficiency in any case, and the trucks do not make return trips empty. The elimination of surface discharge is a good step, although clearly it needs to be followed up.

  2. So... now that they're recycling, i.e., retaining produced water within existing flowback impoundments to be used on later wells offsite, can an impoundment with a permitted duration of use of less than 9 months, with no leak detection systems or groundwater protection plan submitted prior to construction become a residual waste impoundment employed for a duration greater than 9 months?

  3. Concerned ScientistMay 27, 2011 at 9:22 AM


    I have sensed a subtle but significant shift in this dialogue lately. There will always be some that are convinced that shale gas and hydraulic fracturing are the devil's work, but I think the truth is slowly creeping out. I think your blog makes a big difference. Although the Duke study was deeply flawed in its analysis of the gas migration issue, the fact that researchers with a clear anti-shale gas bias found NO EVIDENCE of frack fluids in well water near gas wells may well be a turning point. EPA director Lisa Jackson said the other day in testimony to congress that they did not have any evidence that the process of hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater. I heard an NRDC representative actually making the point that they were not for a ban on hydraulic fracturing because they saw that a ban on hydraulic fracturing was essentially a ban on natural gas as >90% of gas wells are now hydraulically fractured. A very important and reality-based point.

    I think the best approach for all involved including the environmental groups and the companies is to fight for strong, consistent and evenly applied regulation and enforcement. I think the mantra of the companies should be "we want to produce this gas and we want to do it as cleanly and safely as possible. We support the strongest regulation and enforcement of our industry." The best stance for an environmental group who actually really cares about the environment (and not just about fund-raising) is to say "For the next few decades, we would like to see natural gas replace coal as we build our renewable energy portfolio. Gas is far cleaner than coal in almost every way and will make our air and water cleaner while reducing our GHG footprint. We understand that hydraulic fracturing is required to produce most of the gas that is remaining in the US and Europe and that this is something we need to accept if we want to decrease our overall environmental footprint. We demand the strongest regulation and enforcement of drilling, hydraulic fracturing and production of natural gas."

    It's a win-win for the companies who want to do it right and for environmentalists who actually care about the environment and not just fighting big oil. There is a difference.

  4. Mr. Hanger, Please explain:

    Your comment:

    " 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."


    "The Department of Environmental Protection determined that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. allowed methane from a deep rock formation to seep into 14 residential drinking water supplies through faulty or overpressured casing in its Marcellus Shale gas wells."

    Your statement:

    "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."

    Another result:

    "The firm's (Farnham and Associates) president, Daniel Farnham, said this week that the incidence of contamination is not isolated. Instead, he has found hydrocarbon solvents - including ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene - in the well water of "almost everybody" on and around Carter Road in Dimock where methane traced to deep rock formations has also been found."

    There seems to be some lack of clarity about what "shallow" and "deep" are. Would you please clarify?

    To "Concerned Scientist"--would you say that environmentalists are voicing concern for individuals? Individuals have been misled by the gas industry. That may be why it appears environmentalists are "fighting big oil." There's a huge PR machine that individuals had not been able to fight until recently. Real people have been harmed by practices of the gas drillers. It's unfortunate that the drillers decided to follow shoddy practices and then deny, deny, deny. It will take a long time to determine how safe or how dangerous this industry is in PA. Had everyone followed best practices and exercised what are commonly called "morals" and "ethics", perhaps the damage would not have occurred at all, but we'll never know that now.

  5. This is a huge cultural battle, those who welcome the development oif this very cvaluable resource and those who will say anythung to keep it in Texas.

    There are all kinds of thing in PA frewsh water wells to start with. The gascos are not going to pay for other's problems.

    FACT the migrating Methane is from shallow formations. 75% of N tier h2o wells have methance to start, ask any well drilleder.
    Engineering solutions have been found drilling is advancing.