Pike water is 'generally good'

Study of residential wells will serve as baseline to track water quality if fracking comes


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"Future gas drilling and development or other land use changes could impact Pike County groundwater, and having a frame of reference for our current groundwater is important."
Sally Corrigan, Pike County Conservation District

— The groundwater in Pike County is generally good, according to a study of residential wells recently completed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the Pike County Conservation District.

Some of the wells tested already had detectable concentrations of methane, with two wells showing relatively elevated concentrations, according to a summary by Sally Corrigan, executive director of the Pike County Conservation District. This methane is different from the methane related to gas-drilling operations, with a different "isotopic fingerprint" than that related to gas drilling. Many of the wells also showed detectable levels of components associated with fracking brine. Most of the components were natural, although some may result from human activity, such as treating icy roads with salt, according to Corrigan.

Groundwater samples were submitted to a full range of tests, including for methane, dissolved gases, radioactivity, major ions, nutrients, radon-222, stable isotopes, and brine-related ingredients such as barium, strontium, and chloride. Concentrations varied by season, with up to a 20 percent variance of concentrations of some of the tested components.

If fracking comes to Pike
The purpose of the study, started in the summer of 2012, is to provide a baseline of water quality data before natural gas development comes to the area. The groundwater in shallow bedrock — up to 1,000 feet below the earth’s surface — supplies Pike County with most of its drinking water.

In the recent drilling boom to the west of Pike County, natural gas is extracted from rock layers 7,000 to 9,000 feet deep, called Marcellus shale. This shale, formed millions of years ago, underlies almost all of Pike and has the potential for supplying new natural gas reserves through a controversial deep-drilling process called hydraulic fracturing.

Two years ago, USGS Hydrogeologist Lisa Senior with assistance from the Pike County Conservation District sampled 20 wells throughout the county in a range of shallow geologic formations. Of the 20, four wells were chosen to be sampled monthly for one year, ending in June 2013. The monthly sampling shows how groundwater might change naturally from one season to the next.

The study provided important information about Pike’s groundwater in bedrock aquifers, Corrigan said. "Future gas drilling and development or other land use changes could impact Pike County groundwater, and having a frame of reference for our current groundwater is important," she said. "Additional studies are needed to continue to answer questions derived from this baseline study.

"The Pike County Conservation District is proud to work with the US Geological Survey to better assess both the quantity and quality of Pike County’s groundwater resource."

Funding for the study was supplied by the Pike County Conservation District, USGS and the Pike County Commissioners through the Pike County Scenic Rural Character Preservation Program. For more information, visit pikeconservation.org.

The study was published in July in the USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5117, which can be viewed on the USGS website usgs.gov (put “SIR 2014-5117” in the search block).

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