PA DEP Determines Gas Drilling Not the Cause of Barium in Crystal Stroud’s Water Well

Crystal Stroud of Granville Summit (Bradford County), PA has been the darling of the anti-fracking movement for the past few months. MDN reported on her appearance at an anti-fracking rally in Harrisburg in early June (see here). Crystal and her 4-year old son were found to have high levels of barium in their bodies, leading to a number of symptoms like heart palpitations, slurred speech, etc. Crystal blames Chief Oil & Gas and a nearby gas well they had drilled about 1,200 feet from her home. She said that her well water has been contaminated from Chief’s drilling operation. Was this finally the smoking gun that gas drilling pollutes ground water?

Not so fast. First of all, the gas well drilled was not fracked, and barium (sometimes used in gas drilling) was not used in the drilling process for this well according to Chief. So how did barium get into the Stroud’s well water? Both Chief and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection launched investigations to determine just that. The results are in, and the PA DEP says Chief’s gas well drilling had nothing to do with barium in Crystal Stroud’s well water.

Elevated levels of barium and contaminants in a sickened woman’s well water in northern Pennsylvania were not caused by natural gas drilling, Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators said Thursday.

The Department of Environmental Protection released the letter it sent to Crystal Stroud of Granville Summit, and blamed geologic conditions, not a Marcellus Shale well drilled near her home, for elevated levels of barium, iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, chlorides and methane in her well water.

"These geologic conditions include an aquifer, or an underground pocket or body of water, located in an area where water moves slowly, also called a restricted flow zone," the DEP said in a statement. "The conditions of the aquifer in this particular area typically have elevated levels of minerals, such as barium."

The DEP also said it collected isotopic samples at Stroud’s well that showed no connection to any nearby gas wells in heavily drilled Bradford County.

Stroud, 29, had blamed the contaminants on a nearby Marcellus Shale well drilled by Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC. Stroud appeared at an anti-drilling rally in the state Capitol last month, and told attendees that the well drilled 1,200 feet from the home where she lives with her husband and 4-year-old son poisoned her well water and made her sick.(1)

Chief Oil & Gas released the following press release on Thursday:

In April 2011, Crystal Stroud of Granville Summit, Bradford County, PA accused Chief Oil & Gas of contaminating her water well, which had been found to contain high levels of barium and lead. In numerous public appearances and radio and television interviews, Ms. Stroud stated that a well drilled by Chief had caused water contamination and health problems for her and her family. A thorough investigation showed that Chief Oil & Gas is not responsible for the water well contamination or health claims of Crystal Stroud.

While Chief strongly believed its operations were unrelated to Ms. Stroud’s claims—and no evidence had been provided by Ms. Stroud to validate her allegations—Chief met with Ms. Stroud, sampled her well and then subsequently launched a full investigation to determine the cause of contamination. Hundreds of man-hours were utilized and considerable costs incurred in hiring independent experts to collect and review data. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also conducted an independent investigation of Ms. Stroud’s claims. Neither the scientific data obtained by Chief or the conclusions of the independent experts support Ms. Stroud’s claims that natural gas development was to blame for her water well contamination.

Chief’s Investigation

In late January 2011, Chief used a small rig, similar to those used to drill water wells, at the Andrus well site in Bradford County, located near the Stroud property, to drill a surface hole to a depth of 360 feet.

The well was drilled using compressed air. No drilling mud was used, and none of the metals or chemicals found in Ms. Stroud’s well water went into or came out of the well during the drilling process. Before any further drilling occurred, the surface hole was properly cased and cemented, isolating and protecting the ground water.

Additionally, Chief sampled water from other wells in close proximity to the Andrus site prior to drilling (http://bit.ly/rlFfC5), and then again after receiving Ms. Stroud’s complaint. These wells, which are much closer to the Andrus well site than Ms. Stroud’s well, showed no meaningful change in water quality after drilling. Barium and the other substances mentioned by Ms. Stroud appeared in only trace levels, well below any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), both before and after drilling.

The investigation by the independent experts revealed that high levels of barium and the other substances in Ms. Stroud’s well have been naturally present in the ground water in this area for quite some time. In fact, this conclusion mirrored the conclusions of a study published by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in 1998, long before any Marcellus drilling in the area. (http://bit.ly/qiKl46)

That report was based in part on ground water sampling conducted by the United States Geologic Survey dating back to the late 1980s, in some cases. That report concluded that levels of naturally-occurring barium in excess of the EPA’s maximum contaminant levels “are commonly found in ground water” in some wells drawing water from this area. It is likely that Ms. Stroud’s well water has had the levels of barium and other substances she reported since the day she moved into this residence.

DEP’s Investigation

The DEP has also investigated Ms. Stroud’s well contamination claim and has determined that any water well problems in her well are a result of a pre-existing condition in the area and not related to the development of the Marcellus Shale or the drilling of Chief’s Andrus well. In a letter to Ms. Stroud the DEP writes, “The Department’s investigation indicates that the conditions documented in your water well reflect background conditions/pre-existing and that gas well drilling has not impacted your water supply.”

For additional information, maps of well locations, and copies of reports, visit http://www.chiefog.com/stroud(2)

(1) Wilkes-Barre The Times Leader/AP (Jul 7, 2011) – Pa. DEP says gas drilling didn’t sicken woman

(2) Chief Oil & Gas Press Release (Jul 7, 2011) – Chief Oil & Gas Announces Crystal Stroud Water Contamination Not Related to Marcellus Shale Well Drilling or Fracking

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