Surface & Ground Water Testing Near Proposed Hydrofracking Site

Two students, Ruth Maust (Chemistry) and Erika Babikow (Biology and
Environmental Sustainability)

In 2011 a collaborative project between EMU, the Shenandoah Valley Network and the Friends of the North Fork began to collect baseline water quality data in Bergton, Va., near a proposed Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling site. (Marcellus Shale is a geologic formation, which runs from upstate New York throughout the rest of the Appalachian region to the south. Trapped within the shale approximately 3,000 to 8,000 feet underground is natural gas that can be released through drilling and an aqueous mixture of additives, such as sand, lubricants, anti-bacterial agents, etc. Natural gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracking are of concern for their possible environmental and health impacts. For example, groundwater can become contaminated, natural gas can build up in drinking wells, and surface water can be compromised because of spills, other accidents, poorly cased wells and flooding.) While the Department of Mines, Mineral and Energy approved the first shale gas permit for an exploratory well in western Rockingham County, Virginia, in 2010, the special use permit from the County has not yet been issued. Over 13,000 acres have been leased but no drilling has started. In order to show any measurable change, the water quality must be assessed prior to drilling. Currently four surface water sites and four well samples are collected and analyzed each month by two students. Once our methods have been validated it is possible to add more groundwater sites in a broader area. At the surface water locations stream flow, pH, conductivity and total dissolved solids (TDS) are measured at the same time as a sample is collected to be analyzed later in the laboratory by AAS for barium and strontium. The well water samples are checked for pH, conductivity, and TDS as well as the AAS tests for barium and strontium once the samples are returned to EMU.