CU-Boulder Offers Guide for Testing Well Water in Areas of Oil and Gas Development

April 3, 2014

April 03, 2014                                                           Mark Williams

          People worried about well water contamination from the so called “fracking” method used to extract oil and natural gas now have a new tool to help them monitor their wells.

          A free, downloadable guide to help people collect baseline data on their well water quality over time is being offered by CU-Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center, or CWERC.

          Mark Williams, CWERC co-founder and director, says it’s important to collect well water data before energy companies begin drilling.

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CU-Boulder Offers Guide for Testing Well Water in Areas of Oil and Gas Development

April 03, 2014                                                           Mark Williams

          People worried about well water contamination from the so called “fracking” method used to extract oil and natural gas now have a new tool to help them monitor their wells.

          A free, downloadable guide to help people collect baseline data on their well water quality over time is being offered by CU-Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center, or CWERC.

          Mark Williams, CWERC co-founder and director, says it’s important to collect well water data before energy companies begin drilling.

CUT 1 “And what happens is if you’re a home owner and there’s fracking going on and then you collect a water sample because you are concerned that your well may have been contaminated and you get an indicator that suggests it may have been contaminated by fracking all the oil and gas companies do is say, ‘well, it was always like that.’ (:20) You have to show that there’s been a change and so baseline data before fracking begins is absolutely essential so you can establish what the water quality conditions of your well was before fracking started.” (:33)

          The “how-to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu.

          It spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record, says Williams.

CUT 2  “It walks you through all the steps that you would need to collect a sample -- how to do it, when to do it, how to treat your well. (:07) You need to do things called purging, for example, to remove static water out of your well so you’re actually sampling the ground water that is contributing to the well.” (:16)

            He says the guide has contact information for nationally certified laboratories to do the testing as well as a recommended list of chemicals to test for. Once you contact a lab Williams says they will send you a test kit to get started.

CUT 3 “You need to have a process that will provide good samples and reduce the possibility of contamination. So in terms of like a sampling kit, you have to get that from one of the analytical laboratories. (:12) So they’ll send you bottles that are prepped to their specifications and then we walk you through how to collect the water into those bottles.” (:20)

            Since the chemicals, referred to in scientific terms as analytes, that need to be tested are specified in the guideline, Williams says testing will be less expensive than if you had the labs do a broad-based test.

CUT 4  “We have two levels of recommended analytes to sample for. The first one is pretty comprehensive and that’s on the scale of $500 to $700. For the second tier, which is less diagnostic but still has indicators that are helpful, it’s about $150 to $200 dollars. (:16) And I’ve talked to probably 20 individuals that have already paid to have their wells sampled and in several cases they’ve spent many thousands of dollars. (24) They didn’t have any guidance. And they weren’t sure what analytes to analyze for and so, of course, the labs were like, wow, you should do this whole sweep. (:32)”

          The reason CU-Boulder is offering the free guideline, says Williams, is a few years ago when energy companies started using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract oil and gas people became worried about drinking water contamination. He says there is a lot of misinformation on fracking and people were calling the university asking for answers.

CUT 5 “People were calling the University of Colorado here at Boulder and asking for advice and information that was correct on what are the potential effects of fracking on water quality in particular. (:14) So then the university came to me and asked us to start a center to look at that. And that’s our CWERC center that we have and it’s really to sort of act as a clearing house to provide unbiased information to the general public.” (:28)

          Mark Williams is a fellow at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

 

-CU-

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