Water composes over 60% our bodies and we use nearly 400 billion gallons of water each day yet, as the development of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is bringing to light, few of us actually know what’s in our water well. Heck, until about 3 years ago, it doesn’t appear many of us relying upon private wells even cared to have it checked. Yet, professional geologist and soil scientist, Brian Oram, has made it his life’s work to understand the unique hydrology of our water resources in northern and central Pennsylvania and has been encouraging local citizens to have their water tested–well before Marcellus Shale was a household term.
Unfortunately, there are no regulatory standards for private water wells in Pennsylvania, which seems hard to believe, but is, nonetheless, true. The Commonwealth is one of only two states in the nation to lack such standards, the other is Alaska. As a result, citizens here aren’t required to ensure their wells are constructed properly or to take steps such as hiring a contractor that meets state standards and certifications to construct their well. There is literally nothing to stop anyone from putting a water well anywhere, utilizing any equipment, regardless of whether that individual has an understanding of the source rock they are tapping into or how the aquifer below communicates with their private well.
If you own your land and can find a source of water to supply your home it’s fair game in Pennsylvania and few of us give it a second thought. Most homeowners with venting or filtration systems only have them because they’ve experienced the rotten egg smell of sulfur, which, speaking from experience, can make for an unbearable shower. Water tests were the exception, not the rule, before natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale came to Pennsylvania.
And yet, sulfur is far from the worst contaminant that we might unwittingly be ingesting. Mr. Oram has come across wells with snakes, dead animals, fecal matter and other organic materials in them. Even worse, he’s routinely tested wells that contain barium, arsenic and other materials that, if ingested over time, can have severe health impacts. He’s found more than his fair share of methane that reaches explosive levels in homes, because Pennsylvania is a methane rich state. In fact, he has encountered just about every hazard you would never want to imagine lurking in your pipes. And, all of this occurred before a single Marcellus Shale rig entered the state.
Now, with water tests becoming a common phenomena in Pennsylvania thanks to the development of the Marcellus Shale, baseline water tests are bringing to light some of the extensive problems that exist in northeastern and central Pennsylvania’s groundwater aquifers. It’s good news to Mr. Oram, who has spent years trying to educate the public on the importance of regular water tests and proper casing on private wells.
In collaboration with Wilkes University, he developed a database to monitor groundwater in Pennsylvania and encourages those with certified tests to share their information and help establish a complete picture of the current state of groundwater and surface water quality in the area. He hopes it will serve as a basis for monitoring impacts related to Marcellus gas development and other activity in our region.
To learn more about this program, how to get a baseline water test, and what to test for, check out this seminar/webinar tomorrow, Friday, March 9, where Mr. Oram will present a summary of the available information from the Wilkes University Citizen Database. He will make specific recommendations related to baseline water quality testing and how the Marcellus Shale is a Factor in making changes with how we manage our water resources. He will also cover:
1. Baseline Groundwater Quality in Pennsylvania
2. Issues Related to Private Wells
3. Background Levels of Methane Gas and elevated levels of bacteria, iron, manganese, arsenic, lead, phthalates, bromide, strontium, barium, and contamination associated with saline water.
4. Conceptual Pathways for Natural Methane Gas Migration and Saline Water Migration and much more.
5. How to Educate and Inform the Public.
6. The Need to Use Baseline Data to Make Decisions about a Project, Project Risk, and Vulnerability Analysis.
7. Working as a Community.
You can also watch a presentation Mr. Oram gave for the group, Dimock Proud, last month in the following videos.
[myyoutubeplaylist OeFP91qL2a8, aW0hjagtBYE]
This is an important issue all landowners should be aware of, regardless of whether or not there is natural gas development near you. If you use a private well for your home or business, especially, please take the time to talk to Mr. Oram, or at the very least make sure you have your water tested regularly.