There’s nothing like a drilling rig setting up in your area to set off alarm bells if you happen to rely on well water.
Unfortunately, complacency runs rampant amongst private well owners. VIQUA recently completed astudy that looked at well-owner behaviors in various parts of the USA. Similar to published data on a more localized level, there certainly seemed to be a low level of engagement with the whole notion of even testing the well water. Nearly one in three could not even recall when the water had last been tested for bacteria and another 10% said they had NEVER tested their well water for bacteria. Really? Because the recommended best practices for those same areas, nearly every one of them indicates that testing should be done once a year - for things like bacteria and nitrates at a minimum!! Testing for bacteria – total coliforms, fecal coliforms and e.coli – is one of the basics. So what does it take to get well-owners attention??
Fracking. There’s nothing like a drilling rig setting up in your area to set off alarm bells if you happen to rely on well water. Consider if you will, that the top 10 states based on the number of hydraulic fracturing wells account for a quarter of the private water wells across the USA. And, that there are maybe only 15 states where no fracking is taking place.
As fracking spreads, more jurisdictions are introducing regulations about things like chemical disclosure, minimum set back from water wells and even water testing requirements. In fact, the potential for environmental impact is even prompting complete bans on fracking in some locales. Pre-drill testing is often undertaken so that there is a baseline on water quality should any issue arise. That would seem like a positive. However, there may not be a standardized list of water quality parameters that should be examined and the results follow the money trail. He who pays for the testing (often the drilling company) gets the results first. And the testing will probably only focus on water quality parameters considered likely to be impacted by drilling. What about the water quality basics? What about other dangers like bacteria, nitrates or arsenic that could be present irrespective of any fracking? What happens if the homeowner does not assume the expense of more comprehensive testing?
A study was done by the Centre for Rural Pennsylvania where the shale boom has been particularly impactful. Even though 64 percent of water supply owners in this study received pre-drill water testing by the gas drilling company, many (59%) still decided to pay for their own. So in the end, some 30% of the water supplies were double-tested. The authors concluded that this indicated “some level of distrust of water testing paid for by the gas drilling companies”. Perhaps, it was just an initial spark of ownership and responsibility. Imagine that -going from possibly no testing at all to double-testing simply because a drilling rig appeared.
So what were the results? Before any hydraulic fracturing was done, water supplies failed standards on multiple contaminants. And, no surprise, coliform bacteria tops the list. Unfortunately, bacteria-testing was only conducted on about half the wells. Hopefully, these folks took the opportunity to understand the significance of a failed coliform test. In short, it’s an indication that harmful bacteria could readily get into your drinking water supply and make you and your family ill. Here at VIQUA, we know there is a simple fix. A properly–maintained ultraviolet treatment device can protect you 24/7. And of course, ensuring the well itself is in good repair is also necessary.
% Failing Standard
Public concern about potential impacts of fracking on drinking water wells will persist. Perhaps for some the jury is still out on its actual impact although the Environmental Protection Agency just published it's final report on the matter and it did conclude there could be an impact in some circumstances. But if fracking brings awareness to water quality testing then drilling rigs may be the fix well-owner complacency. And that can only be a good thing.