Speaker: Study of water wells near gas drilling is encouraging

WELLSBORO – In a representative study of 98 water wells selected at random around Tioga County conducted by university professors, it turns out it is “not time to worry – yet,” according to Dr. Paul Wendel, of the Department of Education, Otterbein University, formerly of Mansfield University.

The study results were presented by Wendel Wednesday at a public event sponsored by the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group.

The study, which was funded with university professional development funds and grant funding, was done in two phases, using the first phase in 2011 as a baseline.

It showed no “statistically significant” changes in conductivity, pH, calcium, strontium, barium or magnesium in water samples taken from randomly selected water wells near or further away from natural gas wells.

Wendel noted that the study, which tested water taken from wells that were both less than 400 meters and more than 400 meters from gas well sites, used several different testing methods to make sure the results were the same.

“Overall if you put all the samples together county wide, and compare phase one to two, we see no statistical difference for anything but pH; in phase two we saw statistically significant higher measure of pH, and conductivity,” Wendel said.

Wendel said the group used a randomization procedure to choose 52 permitted but undrilled gas sites and 46 permitted and drilled gas sites, then identified water wells within 400 meters of the 98 gas well sites.

“In phase one, we ended up with 52 samples greater than 400 meters, or a quarter mile, with an average 1,700 meters from a gas well,” he said. “There were about a dozen cases where there was nothing within the 400 meter radius and we only had six cases that refused. For the most part we think we got a decent sample,” Wendel added.

In phase 2, which was conducted from September 2012 through April 2013, they tried to resample all 89 water wells.

“Four were refusals, some we were unable to contact,” he added.

The idea is to come back in two years after drilling has taken place to see if there is a change, Wendel said.

Attendee Ed Osgood said his concern is a study that finds a modest or weak relationship would seem to vindicate the natural gas drilling industry and validate its claim that it is safe.

“Can you say then that this is safe?” he asked.

“No, but I can’t say it is not safe either,” Wendel replied.

Conductivity, which indicates higher sodium levels, and pH levels were slightly higher the closer to gas wells the water wells were, he said, which is something he wants to investigate.

He also indicated testing for methane contamination should be done.

Also involved in conducting the study were Dr. Shaker Ramasamy, analytical chemistry professor at Mansfield University and Andy Ford, chemist and undergraduate chemistry student at Mansfield University.

Three others, students from Mansfield University, Tyler Stauffer, John Sepiol and Brandon Drake, also helped with the study, along with Binqing Liang, of the University of Northern Iowa and Logan Weist, of Temple University.

“If we keep doing these tests every two years, hopefully we will see a trend, and we are talking about adding another test, so we will keep adding, and I think this is only going to help the community,” Ramasamy said.