If you are drinking well water, get it tested NOW to develop a baseline.
Unconventional gas drilling can pollute surface water and underground aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing requires approximately 15-20 million gallons of water per well, of which only 15 - 20% is recovered from the ground. The use of high volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals results in polluted water that can migrate through fissures deep in the earth, allowing fracking wastewater to seep into the underground aquifers that feed many people's private water wells. Spills of chemicals at drill sites, as well as wastewater extracted from drilling, can leak offsite and into our streams and rivers. Water used for hydraulic fracturing is never again fit for human consumption and poses many health threats to the people living near shale gas development sites.
Who does this affect?
Unconventional gas development can affect both private water well and public water users. In Westmoreland County, most residents receive their water from the Beaver Run Reservoir. Currently, over 10 well pads are in operation along the reservoir. Nearly 130,000 residents of Westmoreland, including a few residents of Armstrong and Indiana Counties, are supplied with drinking water from the reservoir. This drinking water has been in close vicinity of unconventional gas wells and can be contaminated. While IUP monitors the quality of surface water and air at the Beaver Run Reservoir, their monitoring does not cover all the ways that toxins can contaminate the water.
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette published an article in January 2018 explaining how research found radioactive materials in the Allegheny River and two Indiana County creeks downstream from conventional gas development that took place years ago. Much of the radioactive materials were found in the sediment, not on the surface.
Truthout.org published an article earlier this year based on research done by Penn State. Penn State researchers found Strontium in freshwater mussels downstream from a dump site in Warren, PA. The Strontium was linked to conventional gas well wastewater that had been poured into the streams in 2011. More than 2.9 billion liters of this "treated" wastewater was poured into streams between 2008 and 2011. The wastewater dumping stopped after traces of heavy metals and radioactive materials were found in 2011. However, this study, published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science & Technology journal, shows that the effects of this wastewater are more long-term than anticipated. This study shows that toxic substances have entered the food chain as a result of wastewater from conventional gas development. Further studies will need to be completed before we understand the full long-term implications for human health.
How can poor water quality impact health?
Exposure to chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas drilling or “fracking” can occur in several ways: ingesting chemicals that have spilled and entered drinking water sources, absorbing chemicals through direct skin contact, or breathing in vapors from flowback wastes stored in pits or tanks.
According to The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, an examination of the toxicity of 353 chemicals used in fracking found that many are dangerous to human health:
-25% can cause cancer and mutations.
-37% affect the endocrine system.
-40 – 50% affect the brain, kidneys, and nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
-More than 75% affect the skin, eyes or other sensory organs, and the respiratory and/or gastrointestinal systems.
Testing Your Well Water
Always test your well water with a state certified laboratory, and test for specific chemicals found in flow back water such as barium and strontium. Anyone living within 3 miles of a drilling site should have their water tested, particularly if the borehole is directly underneath your property. Click here for an up-to-date list of DEP Certified Labs near you. The testing lab will help you decide what chemicals to test for. Gas companies are not required to disclose exactly what is in their fracking fluid but there are many that are known to be used that labs include in their testing parameters. Be sure to ask about the chain of custody when getting your well tested.
When you get the report, compare it to your previous tests results and against federal Environmental Protection Agency acceptable limits. Your water should not exceed federal contaminate limits. Some testing companies will analyze your results for a fee.
To properly test your well, you should test once a season for a year to get a baseline before unconventional gas development occurs in your neighborhood. If there is no time, you should still have your well tested, because have some baseline is better than nothing.
The use of a CATTfish device can help with testing for bulk parameters, PH and conductivity, on a daily basis. A change in water PH or conductivity can indicate water pollution and then you can proceed with further testing. Contact Southwest PA Environmental Health Project for information.
Report well contamination to PA Department of Environmental Protection, by filing an online Incident Report or call 412-442-4000.
Federal Center for Disease Control
Dr. John F. Stolz, Ph.D.
Professor, Biological Sciences
Director, Center for Environmental Research and Education