Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2014WV214B

WRI-159: Implementation of a Drinking Water Well Sampling Protocol

Institute: West Virginia
Year Established: 2014 Start Date: 2014-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $24,547 Total Non-Federal Funds: $49,094

Principal Investigators: Jennifer Hause, Melissa O'Neal, Tamara Vandivort, Paul Ziemkiewicz

Abstract: The Marcellus Shale, one of the largest natural gas reserves, requires horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to release the natural gas from the formation. Upwards of four million gallons of a water-based fluid is used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process with upwards of 20% of this fluid flowing back over time leading operators to deal with huge amounts of water. To effectively manage these waters, operators need to know what they are dealing with - what are the characteristics of the supply waters used to frac a well and what are the characteristics of the water that comes back up once the well starts producing? Small amounts of additives are mixed in with the supply waters to frac a well. Each gas company has their own "recipe" of friction reducers, corrosion and scaling inhibitors, biocides, etc. to add with the water and sand mixture making up their fracking fluid. The flowback water will contain these compounds along with salts, metals, organic compounds and other constituents of concern picked up from the formation. The increased activity with the Marcellus Shale has heightened attention and raised questions about potential impacts on nearby environmental and public health, specifically surrounding the water streams associated with the gas wells and impacts on nearby groundwater. Given the sheer number of additive compounds that are used during the drilling process and those that could be mixed with supply waters to frac a well, and the water quality of the supply water, it becomes an overwhelming task to determine what water quality parameters need to be monitored to protect nearby groundwater sources that may serve as drinking water supplies. Once the fracking fluid mixes in with the shale formation and the water begins to flow back, additional water quality parameters become of concern thus adding to the list. The objective of this study is to look at the chemical make-up of drilling fluids, muds and cuttings and fracking and flowback waters throughout the Marcellus Play in northern West Virginia and determine a manageable list of parameters industry and homeowners can follow to monitor groundwater and drinking water wells near a gas well. Working closely with industry and state agencies, gas well sites will be determined and accessed obtained to drilling fluids, muds and cutting and to fracking and flowback waters for sampling. Information on the source water(s) that make up the fracking water and copies of the fracturing fluid composition will be obtained. Comparisons will be made of all water streams at each gas well site with the EPA's contaminants of concern list, focusing more on organic compounds. A list of parameters to monitor for each well will be developed along with a monitoring plan and sampling schedule. Analytical results will be reviewed and used as the basis for the development of a monitoring protocol for sampling and analyzing nearby groundwater and drinking water wells. Phase I focused on developing a drinking water well sampling protocol. Phase II will focus on identifying areas to implement the monitoring protocol. Drinking water wells will be monitored in multiple study areas by identifying active areas of horizontal gas well development and non-active areas where no horizontal gas well development activity is occurring. Drinking water well monitoring results of the active and non-active study areas will be compared to determine if: 1) the monitoring protocol consists of the appropriate water quality indicators when considering potential human health effects; 2) negative impacts on drinking water source(s) have resulted from shale gas development; and 3) sampled parameters are the result of pre-existing in situ environmental conditions. Findings of Phase II will provide a field-tested, cost-efficient, and effective drinking water well protocol for well owners. The protocol may also provide guidance to industry and regulatory agencies to refine their own groundwater monitoring protocols/programs. Water quality data obtained through monitoring of drinking water wells will be managed through the 3 Rivers Quest (3RQ) GIS system managed by the West Virginia Water Research Institute. Study areas will be selected within the 3RQ area (Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio River basins) to provide the foundation for an additional data layer (groundwater data) to the system. Comparison analyses of water quality data of the active and non-active study areas along with the monitoring protocol will be presented at and/or published through relevant professional organizations.