Knowing how to interpret water tests

Now that gas well drilling is a reality in Susquehanna County, Penn State Cooperative Extension hopes to continue providing residents with necessary information so that they can make good decisions about monitoring their water.

In places where gas well drilling is already occurring, it is important to have a pre-drill water test conducted, water specialist Bryan Swistock said at a forum last Tuesday night at Elk Lake High School, so that the property owners can access the quality of their water before the arrival of industrial activity.
Then, he said, they can compare their test results after drilling to determine if gas well activity has impacted their well water.
If gas drilling has not yet occurred within five miles of your home, it is still a good idea to get a pretest done, Swistock advised
The test can be conducted by a drilling company’s laboratory, or privately by an independent state-certified testing laboratory.
To ensure the pre-drilling test is valid, it is important to make sure that the laboratory employee or subcontractor is indeed from a state-certified lab, and that the technician taking the samples can provide identification showing that they are from such a lab.
Also, a third party chain of custody record needs to be kept, showing who has handled the samples, to avoid cross contamination or tampering, so that the test is reliable and can hold up in court. “If you are dealing with gas company documentation testing, don’t take the water samples yourself,” he emphasized.
Swistock’s power point presentation included a number of useful tables to help attendees interpret water test results. He showed test report samples from several water testing companies, including Penn State, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Appalachia, and Test America.
“We’ve gotten a lot of reports that the same guy who shows up to test the water was the same guy they signed the lease with,” Sistock said.
The gas well company is required to hire an independent, state-certified water testing laboratory to conduct the water testing.
Jim and Marcia Perkins of Liberty Township attended the seminar. Although there has been no drilling within a mile of his home, Perkins has done a pretest, which was conducted by Appalachia, he said. “We know that it’s coming our way soon, and we wanted to have a valid pretest, so we paid for an independent lab ourselves,” he said.
Swistock said that it is advisable to get a pretest within the year before drilling, but any time up until the earth moving part of the pad construction is still good.
As he showed sample water reports, he pointed out elevated levels of chloride and barium, indicators that gas well drilling contamination has affected the well water.
One person had a pretest, then a post-drill test that showed elevated levels: this was a good example of how drilling contamination looks on lab reports. Another had no pretest, but the post-drill report showed elevated levels of sodium, chloride, barium, and manganese very consistent with a drilling contamination profile.
However, since no pretest was conducted, the burden of proof would thus be greater on the home owner and the DEP.
When drilling is imminent, an employee or subcontractor from the gas company’s contracted lab will visit the homes within 1,000 feet of the proposed gas well to collect the pre-drilling water samples. “Do not refuse to allow the water testing personnel to collect samples, or deny them access to your well,” Swistock said.
He noted that gas well operators are not presumed responsible for pollution of water supplies that they were denied access to prior to drilling.”
An informative pamphlet was among the free handouts on “Gas Well Drilling and Your Private Water Supply” is available at your local extension office at 836-3196 in Wyoming County and 278-1158.