Mansfield University Conducting Water Study

MANSFIELD, PA— As the natural gas boom revs up in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, with all its benefits and drawbacks, local citizens are often left wondering where to turn for reliable, impartial information on a number of subjects. One of these local citizens, Paul Wendel, a science professor at Mansfield University, saw an opportunity for education.

Paul Wendel

He assembled the Marcellus Shale Water Study Group and designed a blind study to test water samples for barium and strontium, two substances whose presence would indicate that flowback fluid is interacting with ground water near gas wells.

“This study tests the quality of the gas company safeguards,” Wendel said. “The study has received no outside funding. It’s part of our job as scientists and educators, especially as employees of a state school.”

The study measures strontium and barium, which are natural substances but concentrations in ground water are typically low. If elevated levels were detected, it would indicate interaction between the gas well site and the aquifer. When a gas well is first drilled, a hole is bored to just below aquifer level. Then a steel tube, similar to a flu for a wood stove, is inserted. After that, cement is pumped from the bottom up on the outside of the steel tube, creating a casing to protect against groundwater contamination. According to Wendel, “If that’s done right, it works quite well.”

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