Tuesday, December 19, 2023

HEI Energy, Penn State Study Uses 28,500 Water Sample Results To Help Identify Oil & Gas Industry Groundwater Pollution

On December 18, representatives of the nonprofit
HEI Energy and Penn State researchers provided an overview of how they used nearly 28,500 water sample results to help identify oil and gas industry groundwater pollution as part of the Community Exposures To Oil and Gas Development and Groundwater Contamination study.

Dr. Jennifer Baka, Penn State, and Dr. Susan Brantley, also from Penn State, presented an overview of their research in connection with a study to evaluate potential linkages between unconventional oil and gas development and groundwater contamination in Beaver, Greene and Washington counties.

The research team highlighted their interdisciplinary research approach involving geoscientific analyses and community engagement.

The study was informed by focus groups in the region to help identify areas of community concern between July 31 and August 1 to discuss preliminary study results with community members. 

The research began in 2022 and is ongoing.

Pre-Shale Gas Drilling Data

Dr. Baka explained the study is based on 28,500 water sampling results submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection as part of pre-shale gas well development by shale gas operators since about 2011.

“When [shale] oil and gas companies drill, they are going to be liable if they contaminate somebody's drinking water. So what they do is they pay professional geology consultants to go out and sample waters, groundwater, water wells, springs, within a certain distance [of proposed shale gas wells]. And the different companies use different distances,” said Dr. Baka.  

“And then they take those [sample] waters, they give them to a commercial analytical certified laboratory, environmental laboratory. And then those data are given to the regulator, the DEP, before the drilling so that if there is someone later that says, ‘My well was contaminated,’ they can take a sample in the same way and compare it, and then they can either be presumed liable or presumed not liable for whatever happened.”

Dr. Baka said DEP provided the sample results from the shale gas industry in paper form and Penn State paid students to have the data entered into an electronic database for analysis as part of this research project.

Fingerprint Chemicals

Dr. Baka said they analyzed the data using “fingerprint” chemical characteristics typically found in unconventional shale gas wastewater.

Those chemicals included sodium chloride, barium, strontium, bromide, radioactive radium, thallium, trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene and other characteristics.

The results for sodium chloride, barium, strontium and thallium helped identify ‘hotspots’ for groundwater contamination.

[Note: A study released in May 2022 by Dr. William Burgos at Penn State University found conventional drilling wastewater spread on roads in Pennsylvania contains concentrations of barium, strontium, lithium, iron, manganese that exceed human-health based criteria and levels of radioactive radium that exceed industrial discharge standards.  Read more here.

[In fact, 25 out of the 31 chemicals and pollutants found in the wastewater exceeded, and in many instances far exceeded, established health or environmental standards, including radioactive radium.  Read more here.]

Conventional/Shale Gas Share Fingerprints

[Note: Wastewater from conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations have very similar chemical fingerprints which is no doubt showing up in the pre-shale gas drilling water sampling done by shale gas operators used in the HEI Energy research.

[Conventional oil and gas drilling has been conducted in Pennsylvania since 1859 resulting in over 350,000+ wells that have been unregulated to protect the environment.  

[It has only been since 1984, when the first more comprehensive Oil and Gas Act was signed into law, that conventional operators began to be  regulated in any meaningful way to prevent pollution.

[Unconventional shale gas well drilling started in 2003 in Pennsylvania, resulting in 14,294 wells drilled.

[In a follow up email, Dr. Baka said, “We argue that the water sampling dataset can be understood as post-drill as well, as today’s pre-drill sampling will be capturing impacts of UOG [unconventional shale gas] activities that are already occurring in the area.”]


The researchers then used the pre-shale gas drilling data to locate “hotspots” for fingerprint chemicals like wastewater (barium, strontium), salt and thallium.

“But the thing to emphasize here is that we need to do more follow-up water testing and community outreach to advance this study,” said Dr. Baka.  “So the geoscientific analysis was identifying those hotspot regions through a water sampling database that was just one sample at one point in time. So we would like to go out next and do some follow-up testing in those hotspot areas to further triangulate our results.”

Other Follow Ups

Dr. Susan Brantley said, “The need for transparency is definitely one of the key concerns under that category of what changes would you like to see, but I think what our results are also showing is that the need for continuous water testing. 

“If we're going to transform rural society basically into an industrial zone, well, to minimize the negative impacts of that, then we need to be monitoring for environmental impacts continuously over the lifespan of that industrial process. And that was another need expressed in the focus groups.”

Dr. Brantley added, “So transparency is one thing. In terms of setbacks, I'm not speaking for Jen, but I think 500 feet, which is the Pennsylvania closest building, that's the setback, that's way too short. 

“In one of our case studies, we could show that, not only methane, but also one of the compounds that was used in the UOG [shale gas] moved more than two and a half kilometers. So the setbacks really should be longer, in my opinion.”

For more information on this study, visit HEI Energy’s Community Exposures To Oil and Gas Development and Groundwater Contamination webpage.

(Hotspot Maps 2022 Study: Methane, Brine (Barium, Strontium), Thallium.  Red is bad.)

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- PA Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Dec. 16 to 22 - 46% More Conventional NOVs; More Abandoned Wells; Conventional Well Fire; Venting Gas, Spills, Plugging Mess  [PaEN]  

-- Conventional Oil Well Storage Tanks Burn In McKean County, 6 Local Fire Companies Respond  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industry Compliance So Far In 2023 - It Isn’t Pretty   [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - December 23 [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posted 56 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In Dec. 23 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- AP: Drilling Under Pennsylvania's 'Gasland' Town Has Been Banned Since 2010, It's Coming Back  [PaEN]

-- CNX Resources Begins Disclosing General Information On Fracking Chemicals, Air Monitoring Results Online At 2 Shale Gas Well Pads  [PaEN]

-- Oil & Gas Facilities Self-Reported 13,432,713 Tons Of Air Pollution In PA In 2022; 101,741,616 Tons Total Since 2012  [PaEN]

-- US DOE, Treasury Release Proposed Regulations Implementing Clean Hydrogen Production Credit Setting A Sliding Scale For Credits  [PaEN]

-- CNX Ends Coordination On West Virginia Adams Fork Ammonia Energy Project, Anchor Of ARCH2 Hydrogen Hub Application  [PaEN]

-- HEI Energy, Penn State Study Uses 28,500 Water Sample Results To Help Identify Oil & Gas Industry Groundwater Pollution  [PaEN] 

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Approves Water Withdrawal Requests For Shale Gas Drilling In Loyalsock, Pine Creek Exceptional Value Watersheds  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Approves 32 Shale Gas Well Pad Water Use General Permits In Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wyoming Counties  [PaEN]

-- FERC Approves PJM $1.25 Billion Winter Storm Elliot Settlement With Non-Performing Natural Gas, Other Electricity Generators  [PaEN]

-- Project InnerSpace Launches Cross-Collaborative Future of Oil/Gas Well-Based Geothermal In Pennsylvania Study  [PaEN]

-- PUC Update On Investigation Of Dec. 12 Home Explosion In Sewickley Heights, Allegheny County  [PaEN]

NewsClips This Week:

-- WNEP: Residents Awaiting Water React To Return Of Shale Gas Drilling In Dimock, Susquehanna County: ‘Stab In The Back’

-- The Allegheny Front: Environmental Groups Pressure Gov. Shapiro To Crack Down On Shale Gas Industry 

-- ABC27: PA Environmental Groups Hold Press Conferences Asking Shapiro To Take Action On Fracking 

-- Fox News Guest Essay: Pennsylvania’s Radical Plan To Produce Energy And Protect Our Environment - By Gov. Josh Shapiro & Nick Deiuliis, CEO CNX Resources

-- PA Capital-Star: CNX Gas Company Begins Self-Reporting Air Quality Data As Part Of Shapiro Partnership

-- Bob Donnan Blog: Oil & Gas Industry Air Pollution In Pennsylvania

-- Bob Donnan Blog: Oil & Gas Industry Groundwater Pollution

-- Marcellus Shale Gas Industry Coalition: All We Want For Christmas Is - Permit Reform; More Energy Infrastructure

-- StateImpactPA - Rachel McDevitt: PA Shale Gas Drilling Activity, Gas Prices Fall, Report Says  [406 new shale gas wells drilled in 2023 increasing DEP’s workload]

-- Bloomberg: Congressional House Democrats Investigate Diversified Energy Oil/Gas Producer Methane Emissions, Business Practices  [PA Largest Conventional Well Operators] 

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Diversified Energy Oil & Gas Well Company Share Drop Sharply After Congressional Democrats Start Well Probe

-- Tribune-Democrat: CPV Fairview Natural Gas-Fired Power Plant Gets $900,000 School District Tax Repayment After Reassessment Settlement

-- TribLive: Home For Holidays Has Different Meaning For Victims Of Natural Gas Explosion In Plum Boro, Allegheny County 

-- AP: 1 Dead After Propane Gas Hotel Explosion In Lancaster County

-- WPXI: Major Natural Gas Leak At Ross Twp., Allegheny County Business Forced Road Closures, Evacuations

-- KDKA: Explosion, Fire At AmeriGas Propane Gas Facility In Beaver County, No Injuries

-- Bloomberg: LNG Natural Gas Shipping Rates Slump On Lower Demand Despite Red Sea Chaos

-- Inside Climate News: Thousands Of Oil/Gas Wastewater Spills Threaten Property, Groundwater, Wildlife, Livestock Across Texas

-- Reuters: Texas Grid Over Relies On Natural Gas To Restore Power After Blackouts, Study

-- The Guardian: How US Utilities Keep Fossil Fuels In New Homes

[Posted: December 19, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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