LINK: Shoveling Water: The Life of a Predrill Test

by Melissa Troutman
The Public

What if a predrill water well test conducted during the biggest boom for natural gas became meaningless?

Predrill water tests create background or ‘baseline’ data — a ‘signature’ of what’s in water. A predrill water test is used to determine the impact on a water supply from natural gas drilling.


After a wellhead blew out at one of Chesapeake’s Marcellus Shale natural gas wells in Leroy Township, Pa. about 10,000 gallons of toxic hydraulic fracturing fluid mixed with rainwater spewed into nearby waterways and onto the ground in April 2011. Chesapeake did routine follow-up testing that included re-testing nearby private water wells the company had conducted predrill tests on before drilling.

The investigation revealed a problem with one water well, labeled RW04, located 1,200 feet from the failed Marcellus natural gas well. Initial post-blowout tests revealed methane levels 10 times higher than in the predrill test. Levels of barium, calcium, chloride, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and sodium increased about 10-fold as well.

Despite the significant change in water quality, Chesapeake concluded, citing post-blowout tests and “historical information” from the water well owner himself, that what was found in the water well after natural gas operations and the blowout was part of a pre-existing condition, characters of the well the predrill test missed.

The company concluded that the predrill water test it conducted of the resident’s well failed to reveal the resident’s true water quality prior to operations.

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