Energy. Environment. Economy.

Federal Agency Finds One Out of Seven Water Wells Contaminated by Bradford County Blowout

Last April, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well in Leroy Township, Bradford County blew out, sending natural gas into the air, and fluids onto the ground. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, is a little-known division of the Department of Health and Human Services and works closely with the Centers for Disease Control.

ATSDR tested seven residential drinking water wells in the area near the Bradford County blow-out. On Monday, the Agency released its findings, concluding that one well was found to be contaminated by gas drilling activity.

One of the seven wells, Well No. 4, showed a 10-fold increase in methane and various salts, compared with samples taken in July 2010, before natural gas drilling began at the site. These chemicals are consistent with those expected to be mobilized from natural gas extraction activities. Adults and children drinking water from this well would exceed the recommended daily dietary guidelines for sodium. Lithium was detected at a level exceeding the EPA screening level. The lithium level could be of concern to people currently undergoing lithium therapy or taking certain drugs that interact with lithium.

The report says more information is needed to determine if the blowout caused the contamination, or if it’s due to other gas drilling activity. And the Agency recommends further longterm studies.

The ability to reach definitive conclusions is limited by the data available to ATSDR at this time. In order to reach more definitive conclusions, long term assessments should be undertaken, which could include:

  • Studying potential health effects from exposure to chemicals released or mobilized by natural gas activities into the air, water, soil, plants and animals, and potential differences in different parts of the country;
  • Testing of residential drinking water wells before, during and after natural gas activities.
ATSDR’s conclusions contradict an earlier report funded by Chesapeake Energy that concluded no adverse impacts resulted from the blowout and that residential water was safe to drink. But according to Monday’s ATSDR release, Chesapeake Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency continue to provide drinking water to three households.


  • Agb16

    This sucks

  • Guest

    Scott, please explain why the story reads “the report says more infor­ma­tion is needed to deter­mine if the blowout caused the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion” and the headline is “One out of seven water wells contaminated by Bradford County blowout”

  • Chas

    Heat your house with a solar powered windmill. And why are my tax dollars wasted on NPR when there are over 300 channels on my cable box?

    • Anonymous

      I’d rather have my tax dollars funding subsidies for manufacturers working on residential solar and wind, but instead, high federal subsidies are going to the oil and gas industry.  The shale gas industry’s ongoing attempts to manufacture demand and convince Americans that industrial shale gas production will free us from dependence on “foreign oil” are targeting policy makers to hit them up for more $’s from our federal coffers, this time funding the myth that they can power our vehicle fleet.  

      But the gas will be gone in less than 10 years, just about the time that the casings really start to fail on the 1000′s of wells left behind when the drillers move on.  Good luck with remediation on any of these wells, since they are exempt from the federal Superfund Act, and you can’t restore water tainted this way anyhow.

  • Carlos

    Please also explain why the headline read one out of seven and not one of seven. There is quite a difference.

  • Melissa
  • Michael Kehs

    The report released by ATSDR , while largely consistent with the SAIC reports previously submitted by Chesapeake to the PA DEP, appears to be extremely limited in its scope.  ATSDR’s study concludes that natural gas activity has had no impact in six of the seven water wells investigated and they are unable to draw a definite conclusion about the source of concern with one water well.  This finding is to be expected since ATSDR’s conclusions and recommendations are based on a single sampling event in April 2011.  Further, it appears that ATSDR did not take into account multiple reports and over 730 sample results submitted to PA DEP concerning these water wells and the immediate surrounding area.
    An in-depth report based on this broad field of data, completed by SAIC and submitted to the PA DEP on July 13, 2011, has determined that the water well in question was drilled into a natural salt bearing formation and thus had significant water quality issues pre-dating any Marcellus Shale natural gas activity.  This conclusion is corroborated by the owner of the water well, detailed field investigation of the well’s structure, local geology and the extensive data collection on water quality conducted by SAIC.  This information, coupled with the remaining publicly available information submitted by Chesapeake to the PA DEP, show no impact to any of the seven water wells in the area. 
    Chesapeake welcomes ATSDR’s continued review of this matter and will share any and all data or expertise that we can to assist their investigation. Likewise, we would recommend the extensive data that has been publicly available at the PA DEP for months be considered as ATSDR continues their review.
    Kind regards,
    Michael Kehs at Chesapeake
    PS:  If you are interested, I invite you to read the full reports and inspect the extensive data on all seven wells tested and an in-depth report on the salty one at this link: 

  • Cmoredata

    “ATSDR recommends studies…”? RECOMMENDS STUDIES? You have to be joking!!!  You mean there are no regulations in place that REQUIRE water quality testing prior to drilling activity?  A simple sampling program, testing water quality from nearby domestic supply wells, surface water and soil samples in the vicinity of the proposed activity should be mandatory prior to drilling.  Establish a quantitative baseline for future reference and you eliminate, or at least reduce the suspicions, finger pointing, claims and counter claims that I am reading about fracking. 

  • Purplepeter41

    this is what I am talking about Pennsylvania People would rather let some Idiot gas company drill on there land for gas and pollute the well water,and the water ways around the area,BUT will NOT let the energy companys put in turbine’s (or windmills) witch do not pollute any thing and are cost effect….   Expecelly around the ULYSSES,PA AREA!!!!!  WAKE up people.

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