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Celebrate National Drinking Water Week in Penn., or maybe not

This week the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is celebrating National Drinking Water Week, which may not be something you want to join in on after recent news.

Over the course of this week, the DEP is encouraging residents of Pennsylvania to “conserve water and make every drop count.”  However, after considering the recent news what is believed to be fracking fluid in the three Pennsylvania households’ drinking water, you may not want to drink any water found in Pennsylvania.

Recently, the Proceedings of National Academy Sciences published a research report that found fracking fluids in the drinking water in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  The research and data for the report was collected from three different households in the county.

Professor of Geoscience at Penn State Susan Brantley, one of the research report’s authors, explained the study’s conclusion and data during an interview on “The Takeaway with John Hockenberry.”  The following are excerpts from Brantley’s interview with John Hockenberry:

Hockenberry: “So the two scenarios are:  the drilling contamination caused what you are seeing in the drinking water, or some sort of pit leak from a nearby chemical facility of one kind or another.  What is the third scenario?”

Brantley: “The third scenario is that the compounds were actually used in fracking fluid, and somehow the compound got out of the fracking fluid in a borehole of one of the wells and traveled to the subsurface.  But we know that if it was fracking fluid, it wasn’t fluid that had gone all the way down to the shale and came back up. It somehow short circuited at shallow depths rather than from the very deepest depths of where the shale is located.”

Hockenberry: “Is it a sloppy process, where things spray out all the time underneath the ground at various levels?”

Brantley: “I wouldn’t call it a sloppy process, and here’s why:  In Pennsylvania we have thousands of theses shale gas wells, and you really don’t hear about that many problems.  It’s very rare. So I don’t think it is a sloppy process, and I think the gas companies know quite a bit about how to keep their chemicals inside their boreholes. But I think like anything else we do as human beings, sometimes problems happen.  We don’t know that much about the subsurface, and where there’s a lot of fractures and you didn’t know they were there before you started, sometimes something can leak.  The other piece of this that I can say is that in 2009 and 2010, when the company was doing this development, it was not  required that they use a steel casing inside the borehole at intermediate depths.  They had a steel casing at the top of the gas well, and they had steel casing at the bottom in the shale, but nothing in the intermediate shale.  And it turns out in this part of Pennsylvania, there’s enough fractures and faulting and joints that apparently can allow movement of organic material and fluids that at that intermediate depth perhaps is the place where the compounds got out of the borehole.  Now, the requirement is that these steel cases are put in even at intermediate depths.”

To end her interview, Brantley explained that consumers in Pennsylvania and around the country, as well as potential regulators should approach the issue and potential of such an issue with a conservative view.  While regulations now require steel casings throughout the well, as Brantley explained, it is still important to understand the geology of the area and past events or developments that have gone on in the region.

In relation to celebrating National Drinking Water Week, the DEP has provided the following steps that should be considered to keep pollution out of water sources:

-Appropriately use, store, and dispose of household substances safely, rather than pouring them down the drain;

-Test private well water annually for bacteria contamination;

-Inspect household wells annually; and

-Move possible contamination sources, such as kennels or livestock operations, waste systems or chemical storage areas a safe distance from nearby wells.

The DEP has also developed the Drinking Water Reporting System (DWRS), which allows the public to search and view public drinking water systems’ sample history, inventory information and recent violation history.  To view the DWRS, click here.

Altogether, you may want to reconsider celebrating National Drinking Water Week, or at least check to make sure your water isn’t contaminated with fracking fluid, or any other toxins for that matter.

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