On Saturday February 27, 2010, Jim Clark, Penn State Cooperative Extension Office Educator for McKean County, presented "Gas Well Drilling and Water Quality” in the Hamlin Township Office Building, Hazel Hurst, McKean County. We organized the event to discuss the potential threats to our most precious resource, water. With the pending increase of Marcellus Shale gas well drilling in the Hamlin Township region over the next several years, many people are concerned about the potential harm that could be caused to our local natural resources. The region appears posed to benefit economically from the energy rush, but a lot is on the line in an area defined by its vast tracts of unbroken forest, pristine mountain trout streams, and wilderness character.
Jim discussed several important aspects of Marcellus Shale gas well drilling including water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing.
The gas drillers use millions of gallons for each well, taking water from water wells drilled on site and from surface streams. [Site-specific permits used to regulatewater withdrawals, but, sometime in 2009, DEP changed this process and water taking is now administered by water withdrawal plans that each driller develops for a five year period.]
Only a fraction of the millions of gallons of wastewater that is polluted by the drillers ever makes it back to the surface during the drilling process. Currently, wastewater in the Allegheny National Forest area is treated by dilution and settling which does not remove many of the contaminants. These contaminants then end up back in the Allegheny River, the source of drinking water to millions living downstream [and home to endangered and threatened mussel species]. Jim noted that we are very lucky to live in the upper Allegheny River watershed. Facilities that can properly treat the waste water are not expected to be in place until 2013. Polluted wastewater will be produced and treated inadequately in Pennsylvania until then.
Some states use injection wells to dispose of wastewater. This cannot be an option for Pennsylvania because the state is already "Swiss Cheese," according to Jim, from previous drilling activity.
Another important subject discussed was 3D seismic testing, which involves dynamite charges placed on a regular grid pattern across the landscape. The dynamite charges are detonated 20 feet below the ground surface. The charges open cracks in the surface that allow surface contaminants down into drinking water sources.
Jim is currently working on a research project that will assess the impact of hydraulic fracturing and deep well drilling on private water wells. If you are in the vicinity of deep well drilling activity, your property may be eligible for this project, which will pay for water monitoring of your household drinking water source.
For more information or for a presentation please contact :
Extension Educator - Penn State Cooperative Extension Office of McKean County
(814) 887-5613, firstname.lastname@example.org