Marcellus Shale Strives for Transparency in Water Regs

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) released a recommended practice for surveying water supplies before drilling, marking the third in a series of MSC recommended practices aimed at reinforcing the coalition's guiding principles to "continuously improve our practices and seek transparency."

Pennsylvania regulations require natural gas producers to sample and test, with the owner's consent, water supplies within 2,500 ft of a proposed Marcellus gas well. These tests by certified laboratories provide a baseline analysis of water chemistry before site preparation and development, MSC said.

Many gas producers already tested wells beyond the 2,500 ft requirement before implementation of state regulations. Gas producers pay for water surveys, which are shared with water well owners and state agencies.

A Center for Rural Pennsylvania study reports nearly 40% of Pennsylvania's water wells do not meet at least one safe drinking water standard and another 20% of water wells already contain methane.

MSC Pres. Kathryn Klaber said science indicates Pennsylvania's groundwater chemistry varied drastically before shale drilling.

"This recommended practice builds upon what's required by law," and is intended to give homeowners an understanding of their water quality before gas-related activities, Klaber said. "Additionally, the MSC is developing a robust pre-drill water quality database. When complete, this first-of-a-kind library will serve as an important environmental and public health tool to help address water quality challenges that have persisted in rural communities for decades."

Developed by technical experts from MSC member companies, the recommended practice outlines:

• A predrill survey should be conducted on all identified water supplies within a given area of the well pad surface location as required by the state regulatory agency.

• Water supply sources such as wells, springs and ponds should be evaluated before surface disturbance for site construction or before spudding. Consideration also should be given to sampling water supply sources currently not being used.

• With the assistance of the water supply owner, locate the water supply or supplies and sampling locations. Use GPS to determine and record the latitude and longitude of each water supply.

• The samples shall be collected, in accordance with all appropriate sample collection, preservation, handling, and defensible chain-of-custody procedures. Appropriate sample collection procedures can be found on the US Environmental Protection Agency web site.

• Water samples shall be analyzed by a certified laboratory using EPA methods or drinking water methods (where drinking water methods exist). For parameters that have a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), the laboratory should be instructed to provide a laboratory reporting limit no greater than the published MCL.