Wednesday, April 24, 2019

U.S.G.S Releases Study Of Bradford County Private Drinking Water Wells; Nearly 50% Have Coliform Contamination

On April 18, the U.S. Geological Survey released another in its series of county studies on the quality of water coming from private drinking water wells.
The new study described the results of a chemical analysis of water from 72 private water wells in Bradford County which found drinking water quality exceeded federal and state standards for total coliform bacteria (49.3 percent), sodium (48.6 percent), manganese (30.6 percent), iron (11.1 percent), methane (12.5 percent) and the proposed standard for radon-222 (70.4 percent).
        Water well contamination related to total coliform bacteria is frequently associated with improper water well construction allowing surface water to pollute the well.  Pennsylvania is one of only 2 states which has no private drinking water well standards.
Improperly constructed water wells are a particular problem in areas of oil and gas well drilling because they allow brine and methane to easily contaminate wells.
Since Bradford County has been highly developed for Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, the study looked at more specific results for methane as well as sodium, chloride and bromide that can be associated with drilling operations and brine.
The study found, “Four of the six groundwater samples with the highest methane concentrations had chloride/bromide ratios that indicate mixing with a small amount of brine (0.02 percent or less) similar in composition to those reported for gas and oil well brines in Pennsylvania.”
“In several other eastern Pennsylvania counties where gas drilling is absent, groundwater with comparable chloride/bromide ratios and chloride concentrations have been reported, implying a potential natural source of brine.”
“Most of Bradford County well-water samples have chloride concentrations less than 20 mg/L, and those with higher chloride concentrations have chloride/bromide ratios that indicate anthropogenic sources (such as road-deicing salt and septic effluent) or brine.”
“Brines that are naturally present may originate from deeper parts of the aquifer system, whereas anthropogenic sources are more likely to affect shallow groundwater because they occur on or near the land surface.
“The available data for this study indicate that no one physical factor, such as the topographic setting, well depth, or altitude at the bottom of the well, was particularly useful for predicting those well locations with an elevated dissolved concentration of methane.
“The 2016 assessment of groundwater quality in Bradford County shows groundwater is generally of good quality, but methane and some constituents that occur in high concentration in naturally occurring brine and also in produced waters may be present at low to moderate concentrations in groundwater in various parts of the aquifer.”
The U.S.G.S. provided participating well owners with the results of their water samples and worked with Penn State Extension and the Master Water Well Owners Network Program to provide follow up support and interpretation of the results for well owners.  
They also held a public meeting to discuss the overall results of the study in Bradford County which included a well owner education program by Penn State Extension.
          Click Here for a copy of the study.
        A 2011 study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania done by Penn State specifically on the impact of drilling on rural drinking water supplies in the Marcellus Shale region found 40 percent of wells failed at least one drinking water standard for coliform, manganese and other parameters before drilling.  Methane was also found in 20 percent of the wells before drilling, but below advisory levels.
These results are generally consistent with over 30 years of research by Penn State showing 40 percent of wells do not meet one or more drinking water standards.
The Bradford County study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission and was funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Similar drinking water quality reports are available for Lycoming, Pike, Sullivan and Wayne counties and soon for Clinton and Potter counties.  Funding for many of these studies included financial assistance by the Commonwealth Financing Authority Act 13 Baseline Water Quality Monitoring Program supported by drilling impact fees.
 Click Here for an overview of the U.S.G.S. Groundwater Quality of Domestic Water Supply Wells In Pennsylvania Project.  Questions should be directed to John Clune, U.S.G.S. Hydrologist, PA Water Science Center, 717-317-7226 or send email to:
There are more than 1 million private water wells in Pennsylvania serving about 3.5 million people across the state.  Approximately 20,000 new wells are drilled each year.
For more information on proper water well construction and decontamination procedures, visit DEP’s Private Water Wells webpage.
Also visit the Penn State Extension Master Water Well Owners Network Program webpage for more information on water well issues and solutions, including a water test kit available from Penn State.
The PA Ground Water Association website also has helpful information on how communities can protect groundwater and the health of their residents by adopting water well standards, since the General Assembly has failed to pass legislation to set standards.
The Association will hold its Summer Field Conference on June 7 in Bellefonte, Centre County.
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