How to Test Your Own Water if You Live Near Gas Drilling

Sage advice for those living close to where gas drilling takes place has been to test your water. Be sure to test it before drilling begins, and then again once drilling is underway. Only if a homeowner tests prior to drilling can there be an airtight case if water should become contaminated. MDN points out that among the many thousands of gas wells drilled, there have been no known documented cases of well water chemical contamination from hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale. (Note: If you know of any, please send the information to us so we can make it known. Further Note: The well water contamination in Dimock, PA was due to methane/natural gas leaking into water supplies and not from fracking fluid chemical contamination.)

There does seem to be confusion as to just what to test for to prove that drilling fluids are contaminating a water supply. Chances are, there are already trace amounts  of “contaminants” in your water right now. It’s important to know what is naturally occurring, or happening because of water runoff from roadways, as opposed to contaminants caused by drilling activity. Even the weather sometimes plays a role in water quality.

Because drilling wastewater causes a high level of “total dissolved solids” – meaning there’s a lot of particles in the fluid making it salty, we get this advice for self-testing your water from the recent Geological Society meeting in Pittsburgh:

Wheeling Jesuit University professor Ben Stout and a team of students said residents should be proactive in protecting themselves by taking three steps:

  • Test water daily with a conductivity pen, which measures the ability of dissolved materials in the water to conduct electricity.
  • Identify those materials, which can be done with a kit certified by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Keep a detailed notebook, recording the daily results and observations about color, taste and odor.*

Seems like a lot of work, but a good option for do-it-yourselfers. Home owners concerned about water quality may instead want to enlist the help of a water testing company to do it for them. MDN has heard of drilling companies with operations up to a half mile away that are willing to fund water tests. The key point is to make sure you test before drilling begins so you have documented evidence of the water’s quality both before and after drilling.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Mar 21, 2011) – Residents urged to keep an eye on tap water quality

  • Beth

    Actually, this “do it yourself” method is useless. The gas companies will fight you tooth and nail to avoid responsibility. You MUST have a professional company of YOUR choosing (NOT the gas company) do the testing and you must insist that the gas company drilling in your area PAY FOR IT. It costs hundreds of dollars to have the appropriate testing done.

    Please, if you’re going to suggest this is “news”, be sure to report the facts. Otherwise, you are just feeding your readers to the wolves.

  • Jim Willis

    Thanks for your advice on what to write Beth. This is news because a professor and his students delivered it as a solution at a major geology conference. If it were me? I’d do what you suggest and pay for a pro to do it…but some people still may want to keep track day to day, and I found this method to be a way to do just that.

  • Anonymous

    This article is as worthless as the test recommended. And they do not specify what to test for other than essentially —- conductivity…. wow, that is horribly misleading and obfuscating. This article must tell well owners PRECISELY what to test for, and from my research a test is at least $2500 plus and it must be done every 6 months minimum to be of any value against the FRACKERS… If you do NOT test for the precise chemicals the FRACKERS will easily win on court.

  • Jim Willis

    Thanks for chiming in Zoar.

  • Guest

    One major thing to note, the “chain of custody” is imperitive here – if you collect water and hand it off to a facility, there is no proof/evidence of its origin. If the opportunity arises to use the data in the future, you must have a certified chain of custody, and therefore a professional who collects the water from your well.

  • Anonymous

    The shell gas drilling company should use the profits from our gas to pay for the water well testing for the residents.  The burden of proof that the water has not been contaminated should be on those who are coming into our Municipality and causing all this concern and taking our gas.  Also, where a water well is contaminated or depleted, the drilling company shall provide that resident with unlimited fresh water and the means to store and use it until such time that the Municipality provides fresh water to that site.

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