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The Suburbanite
  • What you can do if your water is contaminated

  • There are actions you can take if you ever suspect oil and gas drilling has affected your drinking water.

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  • The oil and gas drilling industry says due to the precautions it takes in sealing its wells, it’s extremely unlikely that its activities will contaminate your drinking water.
    But if you’re concerned that oil, gas, methane, brine, chemicals or any other byproduct of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling could somehow end up in your water, you have options.
    Senate Bill 315, which became law last year, imposes a water testing requirement on anyone drilling a horizontal hydraulic fracturing well for oil or natural gas. Drillers must provide to nearby property owners free baseline water testing for contaminants if a property owner’s water wells are within 1,500 feet of the proposed drilling site. If the property owner was to pay for testing, it could cost $500.
    The test alerts property owners about any pre-existing conditions that could be contaminating their water such as naturally occurring methane. If the test finds no unsafe level of contaminants and drilling does affect the water, it would give the property owner a stronger legal case against the driller. Drillers want to discover any pre-existing problems so they don’t get blamed for them.
    SIGNS OF CONTAMINATION
    Those who install water wells and collect water samples along with local and state officials say these are signs of possible contamination: Your water tastes salty, lack of water pressure, declining water volume, oil in the water, discoloration, an odor and air bubbles due to possible methane, which is tasteless and odorless.
    Paul DePasquale, the Stark County Health Department’s director of environmental health, said if there’s any indication that drilling either from old, defunct wells or new horizontal wells is the reason for water contamination, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which regulates the drilling industry, would be the agency that investigates. The driller would be responsible for paying the costs of fixing the problem. The Stark County, Canton, Massillon and Alliance health departments investigate water contamination from other causes.
    Because of the growing demand for water testing, SAIC Energy, Environment & Infrastructure opened an office in Canton last May. The company collects water samples from water wells for drillers such as Chesapeake Energy.
    Bob Fargo, an SAIC senior environmental specialist, said Chesapeake goes beyond what the law requires — testing water wells as far as 4,000 feet from the planned drilling site as well as testing any nearby body of water that supports livestock. The tests are done by appointment with the property owners.
    Fargo said SAIC employees spend half an hour to calibrate their instruments. They then try to extract the water from a faucet or spigot, preferably at a point before the water reaches a filter or water treatment system for more accurate test results and to avoid contaminating the well. They continuously monitor methane and water clearness levels. They’ll then run the water — often 20 to 40 gallons — for several minutes to try to prevent materials that may have settled in the water tank from skewing the test.
    Page 2 of 2 - They then will fill about 18 glass and plastic vials of varying sizes with the water. The vials are placed in a cooler with ice. After the SAIC staffers visit their test sites for the day, they return to the Canton office, secure the coolers with chain-of-custody seals and send them by overnight delivery to laboratories such as TestAmerica, which has a location in North Canton.
    LAB TESTING
    The lab will test the samples to determine the levels of substances such as metals, sodium, chlorides and methane, said Fargo. It will determine the amount of total dissolved solids, which is the total amount of solids that can’t pass through a filter and can be an indicator of water quality. It will also test the ability of the water to conduct electricity. It usually takes one to two months for property owners to get their test results.
    The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says tests results also often show the levels of barium, potassium, sulfate, bromide and the toxic compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes.
    Fargo said a high level of sodium, chlorides, dissolved solids and conductivity can be an indication of brine contamination due to drilling and it would have to be investigated. Brine is extremely salty water that can have heavy metals. The presence of dissolved methane in water could be due to a natural source or drilling.
    Brandon Mantel, an owner of Donamarc Water Systems in Green, which installs water wells, believes modern drilling wells will likely avoid any major contamination issues especially with ODNR inspectors monitoring their construction, better drilling technology, multiple cement layers in the wells and stronger regulations.
    “Even if there were to be a failure, there’s backup sealings taking place with these gas wells,” he said.
    Reach Robert at 330-580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @rwangREP

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