A team of scientists and researchers from Yale are engaging in a campaign to analyze water quality for those living in the Marcellus shale basin who use springs or personal wells. In a conference hosted by the Pennsylvania chapter of the League of Women Voters, principal investigator of the initiative, Nicole Deziel, Ph.D, discussed the project, and its plans for the future.
The Yale WATer and Energy Resources Study is an EPA-funded project born out of concerns for the water quality of those living near well sites. In her presentation, Dr. Deziel outlined the various potential hazards related to hydraulic fracturing and water quality. She noted that nine million people in the U.S. have a private drinking water source within a mile of a gas well.
Fracking is a highly water-intensive operation, with millions of liters of water needed for gas extraction at each well site. After water and other chemicals are injected into the well to fracture the shale deposit, it is retrieved and is now a brine. The wastewater brine is a mixture of highly salted water, chemicals used to induce fracturing, and radioactive particles and requires specialized processing in order to be reused or disposed of.
As Dr. Deziel explained, the brine has the potential to cause hazards to drinking water both subterranean and at the surface level. Examples of these include spills caused either by failed equipment or erroneous operations at the surface level, and the failure of well casings and the migration of the brine below ground. If these kinds of accidents occur, the brine could infiltrate springs or personal wells that many people in the region use as their primary or only supply of water for the homes.
Dr. Deziel and their team of researchers offered in-home testing, free of charge for those willing to participate in the study, to not only track water quality, but to also develop models to find any associations between drinking water and natural gas activity.
The first wave of their campaign ran from July to September of 2018, and focused on homes in Bradford County, PA. According to Dr. Deziel, Bradford County was chosen due to a higher rate of complaints from citizens and violations by the industry related to drilling, the diversity of age and types of wells in the county, and due to the existence of pre-drill data to use for comparison. In the first round of their study, they had found barium, lead and uranium in at least 85 percent of all the water tested, though Dr. Deziel noted that, in most cases, the levels of these elements were “quite low” and far under the limit deemed unsafe.
Yale plans to continue the study with a second campaign of testing in Ohio this summer and in other parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio in the summer of 2020. Those seeking more information about the study, or who would like to participate in the study, can visit their website here.
Once the water testing data collection is complete, the researchers plan to do hydrologic models to understand how chemicals move through the groundwater system and then conduct an epidemiological analysis “exploring relationships between indicators of drinking-water quality and the health of children, while accounting for other factors,” its website states.