Archive for February, 2013

Water Issues

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Water Issues

The millions of gallons of water required for drilling and the associated waste products are major concerns here in Pennsylvania.

Water usage has been a concern in other states where deep well drilling and hydrofracing have generated both a demand for large quantities of water and resulting waste fluids that require removal and treatment. The millions of gallons of water required for drilling and the associated waste products are also major concerns here in Pennsylvania. Like in other states, the source of water used in drilling raises an issue, as do the waste fluids, their treatment and disposal, and natural bodies of water in the vicinities of drilling activity and the communities tied to them.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission regulates significant water use within its jurisdiction, and recently ruled that companies can purchase water from other permitted users with excess capacity without prior approval of the SRBC, provided the total amounts used do not exceed the permitted quantity.

  • The result has been widespread interest among natural gas companies in purchasingwater from municipawater systems and other already permitted users.
  • If approached by such a company, municipawater systems need to carefully consider how much surplus capacity they can sell without jeopardizing other users or other futurewater dependent economic development opportunities.


One of the primary water concerns with deep gas well drilling technologies is the withdrawal of large volumes (millions of gallons) of water, used mostly in the hydro-fracturing process. The volume of waste fluids produced during gas well drilling and operation can vary considerably depending on the depth and location of the gas well.

One study in Pennsylvania found that the average volumes of water produced during shallow gas well drilling in western Pennsylvania was 25,000 gallons during drilling, 50,000 gallons during stimulation, and 150 gallons per day during production. Newer technologies that rely more on hydro-fracturing the deeper gas wells may use more than one million gallons.

  • These large water withdrawals may come from many sources (streams, ponds, lakes, etc.) and can have significant effects if not performed carefully. Water withdrawals generally exceeding 10,000 gallons per day require permits, or registration with DEP under authority of the Water Resources Planning Act.
  • Withdrawals occurring in the Susquehanna or Delaware River watersheds also require permits from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission or the Delaware River Basin Commission.
  • In addition, the Clean Streams Law limits the amount of water that can be withdrawn from streams to maintain sufficient stream flows to protect aquatic life.

These various regulations have all caused the shutting down of gas well drilling operations that failed to acquire the proper permits or exceeded allowable withdrawals from streams.

Erosion & Stormwater

In relation to water concerns, gas well construction involves extensive earth disturbance including roads, drilling pads and pipelines that can speed erosion. Drilling pads alone may be four to six acres in size for deeper gas wells, a larger portion of disturbed earth than shallow well pads.

Various regulations, especially through DEP, are in place to protect surface water and groundwater from erosion and sedimentation due to these disturbances. Erosion and sediment plans require gas companies to use preventative measures such as filter fence, sediment traps, vegetation, hay bales, culverts with energy dissipaters and rocked road entrances to minimize erosion.

  • These plans also include a requirement to restore vegetation to the drill site within nine months of well completion by planting grass, trees or crop plots.
  • The DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas and each individual county’s conservation district oversee the enforcement of erosion and sediment regulations related to gas well operations.


Many residents throughout Pennsylvania voice concerns about private water well and spring contamination that can occur from gas well drilling, but the reality of these fears has shown to be less prominent than assumed.

Data collected thus far from various regulatory agencies responsible for enforcement of gas well drilling regulations indicate that more than 95 percent of complaints received from homeowners suspecting problems from nearby gas well drilling are instead due to pre-existing problems or other land-use activities, such as agriculture.

However, when contamination does occur as a result of drilling, the impacts can vary greatly, and while the instances are low, it is important to be aware of the range of possible complications.

  • When pollution of private water supplies from gas well activity transpires it is often documented as primarily stemming from absent or corroded well casings on older or abandoned gas wells.
  • That does not mean that there are not pollution risks in newer deep well drilling. While the top-hole water from the initial stages of drilling is usually representative of groundwater used for local water wells and springs, the remaining water encountered during gas well drilling (bottom hole, stimulation and production fluids) may be contaminated with various water pollutants.
  • Groundwater pollution can result from flooded or leaking brine holding pits that contain bottom-hole stimulation and production fluids from direct discharge of brines to the land surface.
    • In the event of these types of mishaps and negligence, pollution can still occur despite the variety of regulations through DEP and the SRBC and DRBC. Somewater quality parameters that may occur at high levels in gas well wastes and can impact drinking water quality (either aesthetic or health effects) are barium, chlorides, sodium, iron, lead, manganese, and arsenic.
    • When contamination does occur it should be noted that gas well brines are highly mineralized and contain levels of some pollutants that are far above levels considered safe for drinking water supplies. As a result, even small amounts of brine pollution can result in significant impacts to drinking water supplies.

In addition to the pollutants previously listed, other water quality parameters that may be increased due to negligent drilling operations, such as methane migration into water wells, can be found in related publications available through the local Penn State Cooperative Extension office.

Several major agencies have regulatory authority over Marcellus natural gas, and thus can help influence what occurs and its impacts at the local, regional, and state level.

Causes of Well Problems – Source Canadian Perspective

Thursday, February 21st, 2013
Causes of Well Problems

There are several basic causes of well problems.

  • Improper well design and construction
  • Incomplete well development
  • Borehole stability problems
  • Incrustation buildup
  • Biofouling
  • Corrosion
  • Aquifer problems
  • Overpumping.

The first two causes relate to the expertise and performance of the drilling contractor. Borehole stability problems, incrustation, corrosion and aquifer problems are related to characteristics of the aquifer. The last cause, overpumping, is caused by well users.

List any problems or symptoms with your well.

Improper well design and construction
When designing a well, the drilling contractor must match the type of well construction with the characteristics of the producing aquifer. A well screen is a slotted column beneath the well casing that blocks fine sand particles from traveling with the water through the pump. Decisions must be made about:

  • Perforated well casing/liner vs. well screen (see Figure 1, Perforated Well Liner and Well Screen)
  • Slot size of well screen
  • Placement of well screen or perforated liner
  • Size and amount of sand pack around the well screen (if required)
  • Location of the pump in the well.

If poor choices are made, you may experience problems with sediment in your water or reduced well yield. Provincial regulations require that a well must be completed to ensure no damage will be incurred to the pumping system, plumbing or fixtures due to sediment in the water. For more information on well design and construction, see Module 3 “Design and Construction of Water Wells.”

Incomplete well development
During drilling, mud and bore hole cuttings can partially plug the aquifer. This material must be fully removed by the drilling contractor to allow water to freely enter the well. This procedure is part of well development. If the well has not been fully developed, you may experience problems with sediment in your water or low well yield.

Borehole stability problems
Borehole stability problems can result from damaged casing and screens, borehole wall collapse, corrosion or excessive water velocities into the well. High water velocity can cause formation particles, like sand, to flow into the well, causing eventual collapse of the borehole wall.
It is essential that the proper materials be selected and installed to avoid such problems. A combination of poor materials, improperly placed screens and a poor well seal make it uneconomical to maintain and restore such a well. Often the most cost effective solution is to drill a new well that is properly designed and constructed.

Perforated Well Liner and Well Screen

Figure 1Perforated Well Liner and Well Screen

Mineral incrustation
Mineral incrustation is a common problem in some shallow water table type aquifers where there is an abundance of dissolved minerals including calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as iron bacteria. When water is pumped from the well, changes in pressure and temperature occur. This creates ideal conditions for minerals to precipitate or settle out, causing scale formation on the casing, liner and screens. Although incrustation or scale formation occurs mostly in the screen or slotted casing, it can also affect the formation around the well.

A combination of good preventive maintenance and good management practices can minimize the effect of incrustation. Management practices that reduce water pumping rates can reduce the effects of mineral incrustation. A strategy of reduced pumping rate with longer pumping intervals helps prevent incrustation of screens and perforated liners.

Installing and pumping a well increases the level of oxygen and nutrients in the well and in the surrounding aquifer. Bacteria, such as iron bacteria, may thrive under these conditions. They can form a gel-like slime or biofilm that captures chemicals, minerals and other particles such as sand, clays and silts. Minerals, such as iron, oxidize and get trapped in the biofilm. “Biofouling” occurs where biofilm accumulations are sufficient to reduce water flow. This can mean reduced well yield and water quality.

Regular shock chlorination can reduce the buildup of biofilms.

Chemical substances found in water can eat away or corrode metal well casings. To avoid corrosion, the drilling contractor must choose a casing material that is suitable for the water supply. For example, drilling contractors usually select plastic casing liners and stainless steel well screens for corrosive water.

Aquifer problems
While most well problems are related to the construction, development or operation of the well, the formation can also be a source of problems. Sulfate-reducing bacteria can also cause corrosion. Shock chlorination can keep these bacteria in check.

Reduced aquifer yield can be caused by lack of recharge. For example, the amount of water withdrawn can exceed the recharge from rain and snow melt. This is referred to as “mining the aquifer.” Sometimes the decline in water level is seasonal. Typically water levels are higher in spring and lower in the fall. Extended dry periods can also impact water levels, especially in shallow water table type aquifers.

Checking the water level in your well is an important maintenance procedure. You will be able to identify water level trends and identify well problems or aquifer depletion before the problem becomes serious.

A well is overpumped if water is withdrawn at a faster rate than the well was designed for or the aquifer is able to produce. Overpumping is the most common well problem that leads to premature well failure. Overpumping not only depletes the groundwater aquifer (or source), but it rapidly increases the rate of corrosion, incrustation and biofouling related problems. Overpumping also increases the rate of sediment particles moving toward the well, causing plugging of the perforated area where water flows into the well. It can also cause the aquifer to settle and compact which further restricts water flow to the well.
If you are pumping water at a rate close to the well’s capacity, excessive pump cycling can increase the problem of biofouling.

Now go back to the exercise at the start of this module. Try to identify possible causes for each problem you identified.

Troubleshooting Guide

There are four common symptoms associated with most water well problems:

  • Reduced well yield
  • Sediment in the water
  • Change in water quality
  • Dissolved gas in the water.

The guide on the next four pages refers to these four symptoms. To use the guide, find the section that identifies the symptom you are experiencing. Look down the left hand column for possible causes of the problem. Beside each cause is listed some indicators you can check for and ways to correct the problem.

Be aware that in many cases the well problem can be the result of a combination of causes and therefore correction may be a combination of actions as well.

Symptom # 1 – Reduced Well Yield

Possible causes: What to check for: How to correct:

Symptom #2 – Sediment in Water

Possible causes: What to check for: How to correct:

Symptom #3 – Change in Water Quality

Possible causes: What to check for: How to correct:

Symptom #4 Dissolved Gas in the Water

Possible causes: What to check for: How to correct:
  1. Shock chlorination is effective as a regular maintenance technique to kill bacteria and limit its ability to create biofilm. However, shock chlorination is not effective at penetrating biofilm. If biofilm buildup is suspected, the introduction of appropriate chemicals and physical agitation is required to remove the biological plugging material. Studies conducted as part of the Sustainable Water Well Initiative have shown that preventative maintenance should be applied before a biofouled well has lost about 20 percent of its original specific capacity and well rehabilitation should be conducted before the specific capacity has declined 40 percent. Also, once the specific capacity of a biofouled well has declined 60-80 percent from its orginal specific capacity, it becomes increasingly difficult to restore the well’s original specific capacity (City of North Battleford Well Treatment Evaluation report:; Town of Qu’Appelle Well Treatment Project:
  2. The presence and aggressiveness of nuisance bacteria, such as iron-related (IRB), sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and heterotrophic bacteria (HAB), can be determined by the use of Biological Activity Reaction Tests (BARTs). These bacteria are naturally present in most groundwater environments and can result in biofouling of the water well and associated infrastructure. Studies conducted as part of the Sustainable Water Well Initiative (SWWI) have shown that about 70 percent of wells in any given area may contain highly aggressive levels of these nuisance bacteria (Rural Municipality of Mount Hope #279 Water Well Inventory and Microbiological Assessment:; Biofouling and Water Wells in the M.D. of Kneehill, Alberta:; Microbiological Activity and the Deterioration of Water Well Environments on the Canadian Prairies: ). Another SWWI study indicated that wells with high levels of nutrients, such as dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrates, in the source water are at a greater risk of biofouling than wells with low levels of nutrients (Sustaining Water Well Infrastructure in an Agricultural Setting – Rural Municipality of Mount Hope: The factors that cause or accelerate water well biofouling are not well understood and additional research is still required in this area. Well capture zone studies are recommended to investigate the factors that may contribute to biofouling.
  3. In many cases, variations in water quality will not result in observable changes in odor, taste or color. For instance, in situations where nitrate levels are increasing, there may be no apparent change in the odor, taste or color of the water. In addition, an increase in nitrate levels may also signal the presence of coliform bacteria or other pathogenic bacteria. A SWWI field study indicates that wells with high levels of nitrates often have high levels of coliforms (Sustaining Water Well Infrastructure in an Agricultural Setting – Rural Municipality of Mount Hope: New technologies are available that permit rapid onsite testing of coliform bacteria. A SWWI study, conducted in partnership with Saskatchewan Health, evaluated a new and innovative technology that can be used to determine the presence of coliforms and E. coli in drinking water (Evaluation of the Aquasure Pro 3000 Single Test Precision Portable Incubator Technology:

This information may not be reproduced without the permission of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development – Home Study Program, 7000-113 St, Edmonton, AB T6H 5T6

The groundwater use information provided in this publication was written from a Canadian prairie perspective, specifically focusing on the resources available and legislation within the Province of Alberta as of August, 2000.

For more information on local conditions, people from other jurisdictions should contact appropriate agencies and water well experts in their area.

Citizens Marcellus group urges more safeguards

Monday, February 11th, 2013

UPDATE: Citizens Marcellus group urges more safeguards

By Tim Stuhldreher

The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission this morning released a report calling for stronger protection of the environment and citizens’ rights from the natural gas drilling industry.

Ordinary Pennsylvanians believe state regulators “don’t have their back” when it comes to the Marcellus,commission co-chairman Dan Surra said.

“People believe their elected officials have let them down,” Commissioner Roberta Winters said.

The report makes more than 100 recommendations, Commissioner Thomas Au said. They center around four goals:

  • Protecting sensitive environmental areas.
  • Preventing air and water pollution.
  • Limiting water use and its impact.
  • Ensuring the rights of communities and landowners are respected.

Among the recommendations:

  • Extending a moratorium on further leasing of state forest land for drilling.
  • Ending the issuance of expedited permits and waiving environmental impact reviews.
  • Enacting a robust severance tax on drilling.
  • Banning the use of toxic chemicals in hydrofracking, the process used to free the gas from deep shale formations.

Commissioners said their report is intended as a counterpoint to Gov. Tom Corbett’sMarcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which they said consisted mostly of industry representatives and overly favored their viewpoint in its report released in July.

A coalition of environmental and public policy nonprofits formed the citizens group in August. Its findings are based on five hearings held around the state, plus comments received on its website.

Ongoing public input is welcome as Marcellus Shale policy is formed, said Chad Saylor, spokesman for Lt. Gov. James Cawley, who chaired the governor’s commission.

Gov. Corbett expects give-and-take with the legislature regarding his proposals, Saylor said. However, on the severance tax issue in particular, Corbett will stand firm, he said.

“A tax on this industry is a non-starter for him,” he said.

The citizens’ report fails to recognize existing regulations and “the ongoing fact-based dialogue around maximizing the economic and environmental benefits of clean-burning natural gas,” said Steve Forde, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition industry group.

“We are optimistic that the groups involved in creating this report will at some point join us in this important effort,” Forde said.

NOTE: This item was updated from its original version to include comments from Lt. Gov. James Cawley’s office and from Steve Forde.

Are you experiencing with your current drinking water supply?

Friday, February 8th, 2013


·    Red stains on your fixtures and clothes?


·    Blue or green stains in sinks, tubs and toilets?


·    Black or brown on anything in contact with water supply?


·    Calcium build- up on facets or fixtures?


·    Low pressure or low volume of water flow?


·    Strong odors in your water?


·    Are you dissatisfied with your local water supply?

Call Ultra-Pure –

New study: Fluids from Marcellus Shale likely seeping into Pennsylvania drinking water

Friday, February 8th, 2013

By Abrahm Lustgarten





Editor’s note: Research similar to that described below has not been conducted in Boulder or Weld counties as far as we can determine. But in our effort to continue to provide our readers with the most pertinent information regarding oil and gas drilling and fracking, we believe it is important to present these recent findings that we believe may affect the current debate in our region and nationally.

New research has concluded that salty, mineral-rich fluids deep beneath Pennsylvania’s natural gas fields are likely seeping upward thousands of feet into drinking water supplies.

Though the fluids were natural and not the byproduct of drilling or hydraulic fracturing, the finding further stokes the red-hot controversy over fracking in the Marcellus Shale, suggesting that drilling waste and chemicals could migrate in ways previously thought to be impossible.

The study, conducted by scientists at Duke University and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona and released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested drinking water wells and aquifers across Northeastern Pennsylvania. Researchers found that, in some cases, the water had mixed with brine that closely matched brine thought to be from the Marcellus Shale or areas close to it.

No drilling chemicals were detected in the water, and there was no correlation between where the natural brine was detected and where drilling takes place.

Still, the brine’s presence — and the finding that it moved over thousands of vertical feet — contradicts the oft-repeated notion that deeply buried rock layers will always seal in material injected underground through drilling, mining or underground disposal.

“The biggest implication is the apparent presence of connections from deep underground to the surface,” said Robert Jackson, a biology professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and one of the study’s authors. “It’s a suggestion based on good evidence that there are places that may be more at risk.”

The study is the second in recent months to find that the geology surrounding the Marcellus Shale could allow contaminants to move more freely than expected. A paper published by the journal Ground Water in April used modeling to predict that contaminants could reach the surface within 100 years — or fewer if the ground is fracked.

Last year, some of the same Duke researchers found that methane gas was far more likely to leak into water supplies in places adjacent to drilling.

Today’s research swiftly drew criticism from both the oil and gas industry and a scientist on the National Academy of Science’s peer review panel. They called the science flawed, in part because the researchers do not know how long it may have taken for the brine to leak. The National Academy of Sciences should not have published the article without an accompanying rebuttal, they said.

“What you have here is another case of a paper whose actual findings are pretty benign, but one that, in the current environment, may be vulnerable to distortion among those who oppose this industry,” said Chris Tucker, a spokesman for the gas industry trade group Energy In Depth. “What’s controversial is attempting to argue that these migrations occur as a result of industry activities, and on a time scale that actually matters to humanity.”

Another critic, Penn State University geologist Terry Engelder, took the unusual step of disclosing details of his review of the paper for the National Academy of Sciences, normally a private process.

In a letter written to the researchers and provided to ProPublica, Engelder said the study had the appearance of “science-based advocacy” and said it was “unwittingly written to enflame the anti-drilling crowd.”

In emails, Engelder told ProPublica that he did not dispute the basic premise of the article — that fluids seemed to have migrated thousands of feet upward. But he said that they had likely come from even deeper than the Marcellus — a layer 15,000 feet below the surface — and that there was no research to determine what pathways the fluids travelled or how long they took to migrate. He also said the Marcellus was an unlikely source of the brine because it does not contain much water.

“There is a question of time scale and what length of time matters,” Engelder wrote in his review. In a subsequent letter to the Academy’s editors protesting the study, he wrote that “the implication is that the Marcellus is leaking now, naturally, without any human assistance, and that if water-based fluid is injected into these cross-formational pathways, that leakage, which is already ‘contaminating’ the aquifers with salt, could be made much worse.”

Indeed, while the study did not explicitly focus on fracking, the article acknowledged the implications. “The coincidence of elevated salinity in shallow groundwater … suggests that these areas could be at greater risk of contamination from shale gas development because of a preexisting network of cross-formational pathways that has enhanced hydraulic connectivity to deeper geological formations,” the paper states.

For their research, the scientists collected 426 recent and historical water samples — combining their own testing with government records from the 1980s — from shallow water wells and analyzed them for brine, comparing their chemical makeup to that of 83 brine samples unearthed as waste water from drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale.

Nearly one out of six recent water samples contained brine near-identical to Marcellus-layer brine water.

Nevertheless, Jackson, one of the study’s authors, said he still considers it unlikely that frack fluids and injected man-made waste are migrating into drinking water supplies. If that were happening, those contaminants would be more likely to appear in his groundwater samples, he said. His group is continuing its research into how the natural brine might have traveled, and how long it took to rise to the surface.

“There is a real time uncertainty,” he said. “We don’t know if this happens over a couple of years, or over millennia.”

—ProPublica – Source Boulder Weekly

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Thursday, February 7th, 2013

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