JLCNY Press Releases

Marcellus report revives water well issue

Published: August 15, 2011

HARRISBURG - A special state commission recommends setting statewide construction standards for new private water wells, resurrecting an issue that has been debated for the past two decades.

The Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission included the recommendation in last month's report to guide the development of the deep pockets of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. The commission also recommended doubling the distance separating a gas well from a water well from 250 feet to 500 feet. Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Williamsport, is considering introducing legislation to set standards for new water wells.

More than 3 million Pennsylvanians rely on about 1 million private wells for drinking water.

Methane contamination of drinking water such as occurred last year in Dimock Twp., is one of the most volatile issues surrounding the hydrofracking operations used in the deep gas wells in Northeast Pennsylvania. Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. agreed to pay $4.1 million to Dimock residents affected by methane contamination attributed to faulty natural gas wells.

Some 20,000 new water wells are drilled each year in the state, yet for all this reliance on well water, Pennsylvania is one of the few states without private well regulations. The commission kept its water well standards recommendation general in scope, while referring to a 2009 study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative research agency, which concluded that 40 percent of private water wells have failed to meet at least one health-related drinking water standard. The commission noted pointedly that poorly constructed water wells can be pathways for bacteria and contaminants such as naturally occurring shallow methane gas to migrate into water supplies.

Groundwater aquifers can be polluted by failing septic systems, fertilizer runoff and mining, the center study found, while individual wells can be contaminated by exposed well casings, or having a loose fitting well cap or no cap at all, allowing surface water to enter a well.

The study recommended passing state laws requiring testing of new water wells by a certified lab and standards for new well construction and education programs for homeowners.

The Marcellus Shale drilling has led people to call for protection of water supplies, said Mr. Yaw. The senator said there have been a few problems, but they have to be viewed in the context of hundreds of gas wells drilled in recent years.

He said setting water well standards is one way to allay public concerns.

"If there's a concern people have, let's do something about it," Mr. Yaw said.

In a related vein, the federal Department of Energy's Shale Gas Production Subcommittee recommended last week that requirements be set to do testing for background levels of existing methane in nearby water wells prior to gas drilling.

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors is opposed to a statewide well construction standard and prefers letting municipalities handle the issue through local ordinances.

Supervisors in some regions are concerned it will lead to state regulations on how property owners use their well water or even metering of wells, said Elam Herr, the association's deputy director.

The last major push for regulation of private water wells came in 2001-02 when a drought led to enactment of a state water resources planning law. The House approved a water-well bill, but it didn't become law.

JLCNY Calendar

No events

Recent Stories

Newsletter Signup!

Signup and stay informed.

View Past Newsletters
Joomla Extensions powered by Joobi