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Water Tests Stressed Before, After Drilling

Special use labs to perform testing

April 7, 2011
By SHELLEY HANSON - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Ohio and Marshall Countians who want to know what their well water contains before natural gas drilling begins can now get a record via their health department.

For a fee, sanitarians will collect samples that are sent to the state bureau of health's laboratory for analysis of various compounds and conditions, such as alkalinity, chloride, pH, sulfate, surfactants, total dissolved solids, total hardness, turbidity, arsenic, barium, chromium, iron, sodium and total organic carbon. For more money, the lab will also test for metals and non-metals.

Howard Gamble, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department administrator, said the state is recommending people have their well water tested before and after natural gas drilling. The testing is expected to reveal if one's water is or has become contaminated.

Article Photos

Photo by Shelley Hanson
Sanitarian Garen Rhome displays well water testing supplies similar to those that can be used to test Ohio County residents’ water before and after natural gas drilling.

''The state lab set this up special for the issue of gas drilling,'' Gamble said.

He noted sanitarians already test wells for bacteria on a regular basis, when asked. The health department will order the special testing kits as people request the service. Gamble recommends people call their respective county health departments for information about drilling-related water testing.

''The customer should be aware that the sampling kit does not indicate that the water quality issues are directly linked to the Marcellus Shale fracking fluid. Each drilling company has their own fracking fluid recipe, which makes testing for individual compounds difficult. So, the test kit, if done before and after the Marcellus Shale drilling, will identify changes in their water quality, which may be due to the drilling,'' according to a news release.

Fact Box


For information about well water testing, call your health department:

Hancock, 304-564-3343

Brooke, 304-737-3665

Ohio, 304-234-3682

Marshall, 304-845-7840

Wetzel-Tyler, 304-337-2001

Belmont, 740-695-1202

Jefferson, 740-283-8530

Harrison, 740-942-2616

Monroe, 740-472-1677

Glen Dale Heights resident Mark Otte said he had his parents' well water tested, along with four natural springs on his property used to water his 30 cattle. The testing was conducted before AB Resources drilling occurred on his neighbor's nearby property. After about six to eight weeks, he received the test results and everything was in the normal range, he said.

''The problem is the unknown. We don't know what's going to happen,'' Otte said. ''We depend on (spring water) for our cattle.''

Otte said drilling at his neighbor's property is complete - now they are just waiting for the fracking to begin. Fracking is when water, sand and various chemicals are used to blast through the Marcellus Shale to release natural gas. Before fracking can begin, the well is supposed to be encased in concrete.

Otte said he plans to retest the springs and his parents' well water after the fracking is complete. He recommends others do the same.

''That's when everybody seems to think ... it will happen,'' Otte said, referring to potential water contamination.

Otte noted several years ago he signed a lease deal, but it called for lateral drilling only - no rig is supposed to be set up on his property.

Jacque Bland, Chesapeake Energy spokeswoman, said her company tests ''all water wells within 2,500 feet from our planned drilling location, which is beyond regulatory requirements.''

''Water supplies tested can include ground and surface water that is used for both human and livestock consumption. The samples are collected by highly skilled and trained environmental contractors and are analyzed by a state and nationally certified laboratory. We pay for this analysis,'' she said. ''The testing offered by Ohio County does not relieve us of our responsibility as a producer to sample the water wells.

''Sampling of the well shows water quality at a single point and time. It is always a good idea to conduct periodic maintenance on a water supply and to collect water samples to understand its quality. Water quality can vary considerably because of many factors - level, use of the water supply, seasonality and short- and long-term weather conditions. Proper collection of multiple samples from the same location at different times, coupled with analysis conducted by an appropriately certified laboratory, can be helpful in understanding normal variations in water quality and can provide a baseline to which future water samples can be compared,'' she added.

She noted copies of Chesapeake's test results are given to the landowners and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas.

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