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Department of Energy Pushes for Baseline Water Testing

Susan Phillips / WHYY

Bradford County resident Crystal Stroud says nearby gas drilling contaminated her drinking water well. Stroud, like many rural Pennsylvanians, did not have a baseline water test before any gas production occurred near her property.

Pennsylvania may be the only state that has no regulations regarding private drinking water wells. That means well location, construction, testing and treatment are all up to the individual landowner. So the Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Production Subcommittee’s recommendations on water quality testing could change things for the more than 3 million Pennsylvania residents who rely on private wells.
President Obama created the subcommittee to advise D.O.E Secretary Steven Chu on how to improve the environmental and public health impacts of shale gas drilling. The draft report released today recommends state and local governments adopt mandatory testing and reporting of water quality before any shale gas production activity takes place. It also advises making those tests public.
But those tests can run between $500 and $1000 dollars. So, who pays for them?
The former head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty says the subcommittee’s assumption is that industry will pay for those tests. McGinty is a member of the 6-person subcommittee. She served as the DEP secretary under former Governor Ed Rendell.
The subcommittee report says few if any documented cases of fracking have caused water contamination. But the report does not rule out the drilling process itself as a potential hazard. The difficulty of proving a connection lies in the lack of baseline testing, especially in Pennsylvania. I reported on a case of barium poisoning in Bradford County for WHYY, where resident Crystal Stroud says drilling is to blame. But the lack of a baseline test before any production activity occurred means the source of Stroud’s drinking water well contamination may remain a mystery.

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