Sunday, August 28, 2011

Septic Systems after the Storm; Backing Up and other Problems

Septic systems should not be used immediately after floods. Drain fields will not work until underground water has receded. Septic lines may have broken during the flood (especially after the good shaking in this week’s earthquake). Whenever the water table is high or your septic drain field has been flooded, there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home. The only way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it less. Basically, there is nothing you can do but wait, do not use the system if the soil is saturated and flooded. The wastewater will not be treated and will become a source of pollution, if it does not back up into your house, it will bubble up into your yard. Conserve water as much as possible while the system restores itself and the water table fails.

Do not return to your home until flood waters have receded. If there was significant flooding in your yard, water will have flooded into your septic tank through the top. The tops of septic tanks are not water tight. Flood waters entering the septic tank will have lifted the floating crust of fats and grease in the septic tank. Some of this scum may have floated and/or partially plugged the outlet tee. If the septic system backs up into the house check the tank first for outlet blockage. Remember, that septic tanks can be dangerous, methane from the bacterial digestion of waste and lack of oxygen can overwhelm you. Hire someone with the right tools to clear your outlet tee.

Do not pump the septic tank while the soil is still saturated. Furthermore, pumping out a tank that is in saturated soil may cause it to “pop out” of the ground. (Likewise, recently installed systems may “pop out” of the ground more readily than older systems because the soil has not had enough time to settle and compact.) Call a septic service company (not just a tank pumping company) and schedule an appointment in a few days. Do not use the septic system for a few days (I know) have the service company clear any outlet blockage, or blockage to the drain field, check pumps and valves and partially pump down the tank if your soils are not dry enough or fully pump the tank if the soil has drained enough. The available volume in the tank will give you several days of plumbing use if you conserve water to allow your drain field to recover. Go easy the septic system operates on the principals of settling, bacterial digestion, and soil filtration all gentle and slow natural processes that have been battered by the storm.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Emergency Disinfection of Your Well After the Hurricane

In an area of extensive flooding where infiltration of septic waste and chemicals can render groundwater unsafe to drink for days or even months depending on the extent of contamination and flow rate of groundwater. Essentially, the water will have to clear itself through natural attenuation (filtering by the soil and the contamination moving thorough the system). Your well may not be a safe source of water for many months after the flood, but in all likelihood it will recover. The well can become contaminated long after a storm when significant spill from up gradient can seep into the groundwater, flow down gradient and reach a well head. Waste water from malfunctioning septic tanks or chemicals seeping into the ground can contaminate the ground water even after the water was tested and found to be safe. If there was significant flooding, it is advised to respond to the immediate problem and then test the water periodically to verify the safety of drinking water.
http://water.epa.gov/aboutow/ogwdw/upload/2005_09_22_faq_fs_whattodoafteraflood_septic_eng.pdf

The most likely occurrence if you were not dead on in the path of the hurricane and submerged underwater near a trucking depot, gas station or other industrial or commercial source of chemicals is that torrential rains have infiltrated your well and you have “dirty or brownish” water from surface infiltration. This is especially true if you have a well pit. Historically, it was common practice to construct a large diameter pit around a small diameter well. The pit was intended to provide convenient access to underground water line connections below the frost line. Unfortunately, wells pits tend to be unsanitary because they literally invite drainage into the well creating a contamination hazard to the water well system. Not having a sanitary cap on a well head is another likely source of surface infiltration.

Run your hoses (away from your septic system and down slope from your well) to clear the well. Run it for an hour or so and see if it runs clear. If not let it rest for 8-12 hours and run the hoses again. Several cycles should clear the well. What we are doing is pumping out any infiltration in the well area and letting the groundwater carry any contamination away from your well. In all likelihood the well will clear of obvious discoloration. Then disinfect your well. This is an emergency procedure that will kill any bacteria for 7 to 10 days. After 7 to 10 days you need to test your well for bacteria to make sure that it is safe. Testing the well for bacteria would determine if the water were safe to drink. A bacteria test checks for the presence of total coliform bacteria and fecal coliform bacteria. These bacteria are not normally present in deeper groundwater sources. They are associated with warm-blooded animals, so they are normally found in surface water and in shallow groundwater (less than 20-40 feet deep). Most bacteria (with the exception of fecal and e-coli) are not harmful to humans, but are used as indicators of the safety of the water.

Determine what type of well you have and how to pour the bleach into the well. Some wells have a sanitary seal which must be unbolted. Some well caps have an air vent or a plug that can be removed. On bored or dug well, the entire cover can simply be lifted off to provide a space for pouring the bleach into the well. Take one gallon of non-scented household liquid bleach and carefully pour about half the bottle down into the well casing using a funnel if necessary. For a typical 6 inch diameter well you need 2 cups of regular laundry bleach for each 100 foot of well depth to achieve about 200 parts per million chlorine concentration. Wear rubber gloves, old clothes and protective glasses to protect you from the inevitable splashes, and don't forget a bucket of bleach mixed with water to wash the well cap. After the bleach has been added, run water from an outside hose into the well casing until you smell chlorine coming from the hose (depending on the depth of your well and the recharge rate, this can take more than an hour) This step is important to mix the chlorine in the well. Then turn off the outside hose. Now go into the house and one bathroom and sink at a time, turn on all cold water faucets, until the chlorine odor is detected in each faucet, then shut it off and move on to the next sink, or bathroom (if you have an automatic ice maker turn it off and dump the ice. If you have a water treatment system, switch it to bypass before turning on the indoor faucets. Once the inside system has been done, go back to the outside spigots and run the hoses until you smell chlorine coming out. Warning if you have iron bacteria in your well, your water may turn completely rust colored. Do not panic it will flush out of the system, but do not use the hot water until the water runs clear or you will have to drain the hot water tank to prevent staining.

Wait 8 to 24 hours before turning the faucets back on. You may want to run the hoses until the water runs clear. It is important not to drink, cook, bath or wash with this water during the time period it contains high amounts of chlorine whose by products are a carcinogen. After at least 8 hours, run the water into a safe area where it will not kill your lawn, your trees or plants pollute lakes, streams or septic tanks. Run the water until there is no longer a chlorine odor. Turn the water off. The system should now be disinfected, and you can now use the water for 7 to 10 days when the effects of the disinfection wear off.

Unlike public water systems, private systems are entirely unregulated; consequently, the well testing, and treatment are the voluntary responsibility of the homeowner. Virginia Master Well Owner Network (VAMWON). volunteers can help simplify understanding the components of a well and private drinking water system. The VAMWON volunteers and agents can provide information and resource links for private well owners and inform Virginians dependent on private water systems about water testing, water treatment, and system maintenance. You can find your VAMWON volunteer neighbor through this link by entering your county in the search box.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Brownish or Dirty Well Water after a Storm

With Hurricane Irene approaching the east coast and potentially heading for Virginia , it seems a good time to discuss how intense rainfall associated with hurricanes can impact your drinking water well, and what you should do if your well and septic system are impacted. Brownish or Dirty water coming from the well is a common occurrence after heavy rains when surface infiltration of water can carry dirt and contaminants into a well. If your well was flooded or your water appears dirty or brownish you need to clear your well and disinfect it. (Keep reading, I will tell you how to do it.)

An impaired pump, casing systems and improper well cap can allow surface water to flow down to the groundwater. Severe flooding can undermine a pump and casing system. A properly functioning well with a sanitary well cap should not be impacted by rain even a lot of rain; however if the entire well assembly is underwater it is unlikely that even a properly constructed system could avoid some infiltration contamination. The pump system consists of the well cap, well casing, and grouting. Surface flooding or excessive rain or could flow down the casing area if the grouting is damaged or the well cap not sealed properly. Often the grouting for the casing pipe which seals the well from the surface environment was improperly installed, has become damaged over time, or in the instance of some older wells were never grouted in the first place. This of course would also allow bacteria from the surface to enter the well during heavy rainfall. Sanitary well caps and grout seal are primarily installed to prevent surface contamination, especially bacterial contamination. Bacterial contamination of groundwater wells can occur from both above and below the surface. Pollution of entire groundwater aquifers affecting many wells may occur from failing septic systems.

Most wells impacted by storms and flooding do not remain underwater, but never try to operate a submerged well. Well pumps operate on electricity, you must wait until flood water have receded and dried out to try to operate the pump. Submerged pumps can generally be tried after the flood waters have receded. Wells in pits should have the connectors carefully inspected and all components dry before operation. If the pump does not turn on call a well contractor. The pumps and the electrical systems can be damaged by sediment carried with the flood waters. It is recommended that you hire a well driller or pump contractor to clean and lubricate the pump and restore power.

Extensive flooding can allow contamination to groundwater from many wells that were not properly sealed or whose well cap and grouting were damaged by the velocity of the flood waters. The EPA states that in areas of extensive flooding any well that draws from fifty feet or less (my well for example draws from around 50 feet below grade) or that is older than 10 years is likely to be contaminated, even if they seem fine. So if you have an older well, or draw from a shallow depth, or your water appeared dirty or brown, decontaminating your well. The instructions below are standard procedure from various state department of health and the US EPA
http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/well/upload/2005_09_15_privatewells_pdfs_fs_what-to-do-after-a-flood.pdf

Run your hoses (away from your septic system and down slope from your well) to clear the well. Run it for an hour or so and see if it runs clear. If not let it rest for 8-12 hours and run the hoses again. Several cycles should clear the well. What we are doing is pumping out any infiltration in the well area and letting the groundwater carry any contamination away from your well. In all likelihood the well will clear of obvious discoloration. Then disinfect your well. This is an emergency procedure that will kill any bacteria for 7 to 10 days. After 7 to 10 days you need to test your well for bacteria to make sure that it is safe.

Determine what type of well you have and how to pour the bleach into the well. Some wells have a sanitary seal which must be unbolted. Some well caps have an air vent or a plug that can be removed. On bored or dug well, the entire cover can simply be lifted off to provide a space for pouring the bleach into the well. Take one gallon of bleach of non-scented household liquid bleach and carefully pour the bleach down into the well casing using a funnel if necessary. Wear rubber gloves, old clothes and protective glasses to protect you from the inevitable splashes. After the bleach has been added, run water from an outside hose into the well casing until you smell chlorine coming from the hose. Then turn off the outside hose. Now go into the house and one bathroom and sink at a time, turn on all cold water faucets, until the chlorine odor is detected in each faucet, then shut it off and move on to the next sink, or bathroom (if you have an automatic ice maker and water in your refrigerator dump the ice and run the water on the refrigerator also. If you have a water treatment system, switch it to bypass before turning on the indoor faucets. Once the inside system has been done, go back to the outside spigots and run the hoses until you smell chlorine coming out.

Wait 8 to 24 hours before turning the faucets back on. It is important not to drink, cook, bathe or wash with this water during the time period it contains high amounts of chlorine whose by products are a carcinogen. After at least 8 hours, run the water into a safe area where it will not kill your lawn, your trees or plants pollute lakes, streams or septic tanks. Run the water until there is no longer a chlorine odor. Turn the water off. The system should now be disinfected, and you can now use the water for 7 to 10 days when the effects of the disinfections wear off at that time test your well to make sure it is still safe to use.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Brownish or Dirty Well Water after the Earthquake

Brownish or Dirty water is a common occurrence after earthquakes. An earthquake can cause water wells to become turbid, which is when the water is cloudy or more commonly dirty looking, and well water quality have become degraded as a result of earthquakes. Earthquakes can affect the water level in your well. To see if your well has been impacted, you will have to empty your pressure tank and see what pumps out of the well. Turbidity could move through the system and pass in a short period or not depending on the specific geology, soil type and hydro geology. Aquifers are water-bearing subsurface soil and rock formations that can be effected by seismic activity. In bedrock formations, for instance, the well will be drilled until it hits a fracture or crevice that holds water. Earthquake shocks can increase the permeability of the aquifer rocks and cause the water level to fall with gravity through the more permeable materials and the water will fall to a lower level leaving the well dry. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-096-03/

There are also plumbing problems that can cause brownish water and do not forget that earthquakes can cause the fittings to the septic tank to fail and a well could become impacted by a leaking septic tank (or several leaking tanks in the neighborhood). First, check your plumbing, check the screens and aerators in your sinks and then verify that both the hot water and cold water are both discolored. If the hot water only is discolored then the problem might be with rust the hot water heater that was shaken loose, simply drain it. After determining that the brown water is coming from the cold water tap also, it is still possible that there is rust in the plumbing fixtures or the piping, but it would typically manifest in only one sink or tub and not uniformly throughout the house (unless the rust is in the main water pipe from the well).

After rust in the household fixtures there are four likely causes for well water to be brown or brownish, surface infiltration, soil fines having shaken loose are being pulled into the well, water level dropping or iron (and/or manganese) in the water. Earthquakes can cause a change in water, either by loosening fine grains of silt and soil, loosening minerals or lowering the water level. According the US Geological Survey there is no rhyme or reason to which wells will be impacted by an earthquake, but time might restore your well. Run your well thought your hoses to the yard for a couple of hours. Let the well rest for a couple of hours and then run the hoses again. See if there is sediment or only color with the water. If no sediment appears, you probably are only pumping fines and the well should clear after several rounds of pumping and rest. If you are pumping sediment, it might be a loss of water level. Wait and see if the well recovers. According to David Helms of the US Geological Survey in Richmond, who is still analyzing the data, USGS monitoring wells have shown significant impact. The example he gave me was the Reston well which experienced a sudden drop in groundwater level yesterday and though it recovered by this morning, the water level was lower than the pre-event level. It is unknown if the groundwater level will recover fully and a lowering of the water in a well can cause the well to basically pump mud.

Surface infiltration of water is due to impaired pump and casing system, but is unlikely to be the cause of sudden brownish water after an earthquake. A leaking septic system could also impact water quality. Testing the well for bacteria would determine if the water were safe to drink. A bacteria test checks for the presence of total coliform bacteria and fecal coliform bacteria. These bacteria are not normally present in deeper groundwater sources. They are associated with warm-blooded animals, so they are normally found in surface water and in shallow groundwater(less than 20-40 feet deep). Most bacteria (with the exception of fecal and e-coli) are not harmful to humans, but are used as indicators of the safety of the water. An inspection of the well and pump system might visually locate any obvious flaws but the presence of coliform surface bacteria would certainly identify where to begin looking. The most likely source of brown water after the earthquake is from the well itself. It is typical in Virginia not to have well casing beyond 40-50 feet deep. The Balls Bluff Siltstone and red clay common to this area does not typically need a casing. The most common modern well installation is to have a pump that installed in the well and looks a little like an outboard motor on a stick. While the most common source of brown water is soil fines shaken loose in the earthquake, there can be other causes. Changes in water level or supply could result in the pump pulling up a bit of mud or the pump could have wracked a bit and is hitting the side of the well hole. So that water that suddenly turns brown may indicate a problem with the well structure or water level. Turn on your hoses and put your hands on the well cap, if you feel any vibrations or hear a sound you probably have a pump problem. Also listen at the well pipe into the house.

The final source of brown water is iron (and/or manganese) in the water. As rain falls or snow melts on the land surface, and water seeps through iron-bearing soil and rock, iron can be dissolved into the water. In some cases, iron can also result from corrosion of iron or steel well casing or water pipes. Iron can occur in water in a number of different forms. Iron is harmless, but can affect taste and use of water. The earthquake might have shaken loose minerals or rust in your system. This source of brownish color might pass through the system like soil fines, but could require a greensand filter.

Your Water Well After the Earthquake

Surprise, Virginia just had an intra plate earthquake measuring a 5.8 on the Richter scale. It has been well documented that earthquakes can have significant effects on water wells. Hydro geologic responses to earthquakes have been known for decades, and have occurred both close to, and thousands of miles from earthquake epicenters. The US Geological Survey has a national network of monitoring wells to study the impacts of earthquakes on groundwater and water wells. An earthquake can cause water wells to become turbid, which is when the water is cloudy or more commonly dirty looking, wells have gone dry or flow has increased, discharge of ground water to streams has increased and new springs have formed, and well water quality have become degraded as a result of earthquakes. Earthquakes can affect your drinking water well. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-096-03/

Aquifers which consist of unconsolidated materials can compact, or become almost liquefied as a result of the seismic energy moving though them during the earthquake, in a process called liquefaction. This results in a compression of the soils and a loss of storage for groundwater, and subsidence on the ground’s surface. Aquifers are water-bearing subsurface soil and rock formations that can be effected by seismic activity. In bedrock formations, for instance, the well will be drilled until it hits a fracture or crevice that holds water. Earthquake shocks can increase the permeability of the aquifer rocks and cause the water level to fall with gravity through the more permeable materials and the water will fall to a lower level leaving the well dry. http://iaemeuropa.terapad.com/resources/8959/assets/documents/UN%20DMTP%20-%20Hazards.pdf

The most common type of observed ground-water response is an instantaneous water-level fall or rise and can occur near or far from the epicenter of the quake without significant change to the rock formation. Recovery to the pre-earthquake water level can be so rapid as to be almost unnoticeable, or it may take as long as several days or months. Water level changes can be large enough to make a well flow to the land surface, or render a well dry. In 1998 there was an earthquake in northwestern Pennsylvania that caused about 120 local household drinking water wells to go dry within 3 months after the earthquake, they never recovered. Very large earthquakes even at great distances can also cause the water table to temporarily rise and fall when the seismic long waves pass through the state and this is the most common type of groundwater response. The 2002 earthquake in Alaska caused a 2-foot water-level rise in a well in Wisconsin, more than a thousand miles from the epicenter.

The shaking associated with an earthquake may cause sand to plug a well screen, and thus reduce the volume of water that can be pumped. Conversely, the shaking can dislodge sand plugging a well screen and cause an increase in the volume of water that can be pumped from the well. In Virginia where well casings typically extend only 50 feet below grade, the shaking or oscillation of the earth may dislodge sand or dirt within the water table that can be captured by the pump. In some cases the well returns to its normal state and the loosened particles can be flushed out of the system but in others the well needs to be serviced to restore former production volume. In an interesting report from the Geological Survey of Japan and the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) that groundwater anomalies were recorded several days before the 1946 Nankai earthquake. The reported phenomena were turbid groundwater, decreases of groundwater level or hot spring discharge. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/geosurvey/faq/waterwell/tabid/8343/Default.aspx
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/UJNR/UJNR_web_abstracts.pdf

According the US Geological Survey the exact mechanism linking hydro geologic changes and earthquakes is not fully understood. Because an earthquake can cause shifts in the earth and water bearing soil and rock formations, groundwater used for drinking and the private drinking water wells can be affected. According to David Helms of the US Geological Survey in Richmond, who is still analyzing the data, USGS monitoring wells have shown significant impact. The example he gave me was the Reston well which experienced a sudden drop in groundwater level yesterday and though it recovered by this morning, the water level was lower than the pre-event level. It is unknown if the groundwater level will recover fully. Well water can also become cloudy or take on a different color, smell and feel. The water can become contaminated with dirt, minerals and other solids, as well as bacteria due to damage to the casing and grouting. To see if your well has been impacted, you will have to empty your pressure tank and see what pumps out of the well. Turbidity could move through the system and pass in a short period or not depending on the specific geology, soil type and hydro geology. However, if there are any indications of impact the water should be tested to ensure it is still potable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Depleting our Groundwater Supplies



Whenever you pump water from a well it has to be balanced by a loss of water from storage in the groundwater aquifer. Groundwater is recharged from rain and sources of surface infiltration. The response of a groundwater aquifer to pumping depends on whether the aquifer is confined or unconfined, how much water is pumped and the geology of the area. If too much water is pumped, water tables can drop in unconfined aquifers, water pressure fall in confined aquifers, surface water and ecology could be impacted and in some locations with fine grained soils compaction and subsidence can take place. The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Groundwater Resources Program is conducting large-scale multiyear regional studies of groundwater availability in the United States. The USGS has found that the volume of groundwater stored in the earth is decreasing in many regions of the United States. The water level is falling in many areas and if this continues we could deplete our groundwater. The extent of groundwater level declines across the United States has not been monitored before now. The most recent effort to summarize the declines in artesian water levels or water tables was in 1983. Since that time our demands on the groundwater have increased and our understanding of groundwater has improved. It is now very clear we are running a groundwater deficit.
http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1323/pdf/Circular1323_book_508.pdf

Although humans have been digging wells and tunnels for water supply for thousands of years, extensive use of ground water is relatively recent, and coincides with more effective drilling and pumping technologies during the past 75 years. The USGS is trying to determine how much ground water we have, how fast groundwater supplies are running out and where climate and human development might combine to create critical problem areas. Large-scale development and exploitation of ground-water resources and the accompanying declines in ground-water levels and other effects of pumping has led to concerns about the future availability of ground water to meet domestic, agricultural, industrial, and environmental needs. Water availability and how we manage water resources will determine the future of our nation.
http://water.usgs.gov/ogw/gwrp/activities/overview-pubs.html

During the past century, several ground-water assessments have been completed by the USGS. These national and regional evaluations have increased our knowledge about roundwater resources and groundwater in general. Our understanding of groundwater and its how it is connected to surface-water systems has expanded and new methods and technologies for resource assessment have been developed and with it the issues of concern have changed. Environmental decision making has grown more complex with increased knowledge about groundwater and its role in estuaries. Water is necessary for human use and environmental protection and preservation.

The USGS has been using long-term groundwater monitoring data, combined with groundwater models, to improve our understanding of the storage and flow of groundwater. This task is quite difficult, groundwater is not easily observed and not all the water pumped is consumed. When water is pumped from the ground and used, the water molecules are not destroyed; the water is simply moved to different places. Consumed water is assumed to be evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment. The rest of the water goes back into the environment, such as sewage disposal into streams, septic leaching fields back into the ground and additional recharge from excess irrigation. Even the water consumed, however, is not really lost; it goes into the atmosphere or into products or living tissue. When analyzing the amount of ground-water available, it is important to consider consumptive use and return flow as well as withdrawals.

The growing population and the effects of recent droughts have made the need for an updated status on the availability of the groundwater necessary. For over 60 years the USGS has worked with state and local agencies to compile estimates of groundwater and surface-water withdrawals for the Nation at 5-year intervals. Some water-use data, such as public supply for household uses and withdrawals by some industrial users, are obtained by direct measurement. Other permitted uses are estimated as the amount reported or allowed by permit. Many uses, such as private drinking water wells, irrigation, and some industries, are estimated. This data has been used to see how groundwater demand has changed over time. This information has been combined with water level measurement and monitoring to develop computer models and tools to forecast groundwater aquifer response to human and environmental stressors like groundwater pumping, diversion of surface water, irrigation and droughts.

The USGS has compiled all this data to try and get an idea of what our water resources are and what our demands for groundwater are. Groundwater provides half our drinking water and is essential to the vitality of agriculture and industry, as well as to the health of rivers, wetlands, and estuaries throughout the country. We need to have a sustainable water budget for the nation’s groundwater aquifer systems; however, sustainable budgets do not appear to be our nation’s strong point. This is compounded by the fact that ground-water management decisions in the United States are made at a local level. Many aquifer systems cross these political boundaries, making appropriate management extremely difficult even within our own nation.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Groundwater Impacts from Geological Events

The US Geological Survey has been studying the impacts of earthquakes on groundwater. For years they have been monitoring groundwater wells to observe any noticeable changes coinciding with earthquakes. The most common effect on groundwater from earthquakes is an instantaneous water-level increase or decrease. Recovery to the pre-earthquake water level can be so rapid that no change is detected. http://va.water.usgs.gov/earthquakes/index.htm

These spikes have been observed to occur thousands of miles from the earthquake epicenters. Most of the time, these spikes are transitory with no lasting consequences for groundwater supply or quality. In rare cases the water supply is permanently changed- wells have dried up, some wells have seen flow increase, springs have been created and springs have dried up. Groundwater quality has also been observed to change as a result of earthquakes. The response is not predictable and surprisingly far reaching. The USGS monitoring well in Christiansburg, Virginia has been observed to react to earthquakes over 10,000 miles away. http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/2011/03/26/waves-rippling-through-groundwater/

Responses of water levels in wells to earthquakes are influenced by many factors including the magnitude and depth of the earthquake, distance from the epicenter, and the type of rock that surrounds the groundwater. The depth of the well, whether the aquifer is confined or unconfined, and well construction also influence the degree of water-level fluctuations in wells in response to seismic waves. Some aquifers may even act as resonators, which may amplify the response. However, there is not a complete understanding of mechanism of impacting groundwater wells and how a well will be impacted. http://va.water.usgs.gov/Gw_FS_2008.pdf

In hydraulic fracking on average 2.8 million gallons of chemicals and water is pumped into the shale formation at 9,000 pounds per square inch and literally cracks the shale or breaks open existing cracks and allows the trapped natural gas to flow. While geologists and engineers believe that there is little risk that the fracking “water,” a mix chemicals and water, will somehow infiltrate through the shale and the thousands of feet to reach the groundwater reserves though a fissure created by the fracking, there are other routes of contamination and impact.

Much is not known about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Shale fracking is usually at depths of approximately 9,500 feet well below the drinking water aquifer. Horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking are used to collect this gas, which differs from the hydraulic fracturing techniques historically used. Modern fracking is not only deeper, it also uses substantially more freshwater an average of 2.8 million gallons rather than the up to 100,000 gallons and much lower pressure used in older forms of fracking. There are many unknowns with respect to the environmental and long-term impacts on groundwater supply and hydrology. Currently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is studying the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water resources, but they are focusing on the potential to directly pollute the drinking aquifer, not looking at potential changes in the groundwater hydrology.

Millions of gallons of water are used to fracture each well. Using fresh water to fracture a well is an unsustainable use of water resources, when you consider that there are reported to be over 5,000 permits to drill hydraulic fracturing wells next year in Pennsylvania alone. That would be 14 billion gallons of water withdrawn from the water table and injected into the shale. Once the fracking process is complete, anywhere from 30-60% of the fracking water comes back to the surface as flowback. This means that each well produces a million or more gallons of wastewater which will have to be treated and disposed of. Land application, untreated release to rivers, processing through waste water treatment plants are inappropriate methods for disposal and potential sources of pollution to our water supplies. The impact and fate of the 40-70% of fracking water that does not flowback is unknown.

Errors in natural gas well construction or spills during injection can occur and lead to drinking water contamination. Fluids can spill before they are injected and fluids recovered from fracturing can contaminate surface waters. Additionally, drilling into the subsurface can create pathways for fracking fluids or natural gas to find its way into water supplies, if grouting isn’t properly done and the well properly constructed. It should be noted also that the horizontal sections of the wells are not cased in cement and, introduces a potential point where contamination can originate. Hydraulic fracturing should continue slowly. A limited number of wells should be installed with careful monitoring of local and regional groundwater supplies as well as verification of proper well construction and wastewater recycling.

Monday, August 15, 2011

EPA Halts Sale of Imprelis

On Thursday the U.S. EPA ordered E.I. DuPont de Nemours (DuPont) to immediately halt the sale, use or distribution of Imprelis. The order, issued under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/regulating/imprelis.html

DuPont’s Imprelis Herbicide (aminocyclopyrochlor) was approved by the EPA in August 2010 for use to control dandelions, ground ivy, violets, clover and other weeds in lawns after they emerged from the ground. Imprelis was developed and marketed to kill emerged weeds and control future weed growth in lawns, and works by both direct uptake through the leaves as well as root uptake by interfering with a plant’s normal hormonal balance. It was designed to be long lasting and does not break down easily, in other words, it is environmentally persistent. Imprelis was never approved for use in New York and California because both states have separate review procedures for new herbicides. New York State officials were concerned that the herbicide does not bind with soil, and may leach into groundwater. California never completed its review.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/science/earth/15herbicide.html?pagewanted=all

Beginning in June 2011, EPA started receiving complaints from state pesticide agencies about evergreen damage related to the use of Imprelis. University Extension Offices across the country reported injury to evergreens on lawns and golf courses treated with Imprelis. Homeowners, lawn service operators and others reported browning of shoots and needles and twisting and stunting of shoots, especially near tops of trees on current year growth on tree tops and outer branches. The damage occurred quickly, within two to three weeks of application of Imprelis. The most commonly affected trees were Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce and eastern white pine. There were also reports of damage to firs and yews. http://news.msue.msu.edu/uploads/files/122/Imprelis%20homeowner%20factsheet_Bert%20Cregg.pdf

By the end of July, DuPont officially acknowledged to the EPA that there has been damage to trees associated with Imprelis use. By the first week in August 2011, DuPont had submitted to the Agency over 7,000 adverse incident reports involving damage (including death) of trees impacted by Imprelis. Test data from DuPont has confirmed certain coniferous trees, predominately Norway spruce and white pine, as susceptible to being damaged or killed by the application of Imprelis. On August 4, 2011, DuPont voluntarily suspended sales of Imprelis and announced a forthcoming product return and refund program. The DuPont website has recommendations for trying to save impacted trees. It is the same advice given to me by the local extension office and if you have impacted trees you might try to save them.
http://www.imprelis-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Information-Sheet-Managing-Trees-Under-Stress-v2-072611.pdf

The EPA order to stop the sale and distribution of Imprelis is based on a technical violation of FIFRA labeling, not the fact that an environmentally persistent herbicide had unexpected consequences. This was a consequence that occurred within three weeks of application, and would have been hard to miss in appropriately designed field testing. The testing performed for Imprelis appears to have been inadequate to evaluate impact to and protect non-target species, such as conifer trees. New York state officials concern for potential impact to groundwater does not even appear to have been addressed by the EPA approval process. The fate and transport of chemicals sprayed into the environment should be evaluated before the chemical and its commercial formulation are approved for sale, not after.

The studies originally submitted were found to be adequate to allow for the conditional registration of the herbicide. The conditional registration required that an additional toxicity study be performed to evaluate environmental degradation and (re)submission of avian and invertebrate reproduction studies to evaluate animal endocrine disruption. The EPA web site states that Aminocyclopyrachlor is a low-risk pesticide. The human health and ecological risk assessments found that the herbicide posed low risk to both humans and other terrrestrial and aquatic organisms, except for plants. Aminocyclopyrachlor is related to other herbicides, including clopyralid and aminopyralid, which have caused plant damage when present in compost or manure as a result the label recommended against use of grass clipping for compost, but the tree deaths were unexpected.
http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/regulating/imprelis.html

Disclosure: In the 1970's and 1980's I worked for both the US EPA and DuPont as a Chemical Engineer.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Natural Gas, Energy and the Environment




It is a dream of some for the United States to become “energy independent.” For others the dream is to convert our nation to renewable energy sources. These two ideas or dreams are related, but we are not about to jump from oil dependence to solar and wind, and the resurgence of atomic power plants in the United States may not come to fruition after the post Tsunami reactor disaster in Japan. Many think that the way to progress is to move from oil and coal fired electrical generating plants to cleaner natural gas plants and from there to more renewable sources of power. Clearly, all your eggs in one basket mega power plant strategy is not the optimal plan.

Our ability to recover natural gas buried a mile or more beneath the earth has increased. Advances in horizontal drilling which allows a vertically drilled well to turn and run thousands of feet laterally through the earth combined with advances in hydraulic fracking, the pumping of millions of gallons of chemicals and water into shale at high pressure have increased our ability to recover natural gas from shale. Hydraulic fracking is a technology that was unknown 60 years ago. In the past decade the advances in drilling and fracking technology have been adapted to exploit gas in the Barnett shale in the Fort Worth Basin in Texas and applied to a series of major shale gas deposits that could not have been viable without the advances in drilling and fracking. The Fayetteville shale, the Haynesville shale, the Marcellus shale reserves all in the United States and the Horn River shales in Canada are now accessible. At the current rate of natural gas consumption North America is reported to have a 100-year supply of proven, producible reserves and even with expanded use of natural gas, there is more than a generation of currently accessible reserves.

A large swath of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia sit atop the Marcellus Shale, which is the third-largest natural gas field currently known in the world. The Marcellus Shale alone is estimated to be 500-trillion-cubic-feet of gas reserve. This resource could heat our homes for a generation or more, and power our electrical generating plants, even fuel cars either directly or through plug in hybrids. The possible impacts to our economy and environment are far reaching. The potential risks are also far reaching. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/List_of_natural_gas_fields

In hydraulic fracking on average 2-3 million gallons of chemicals and water is pumped into the shale formation at 9,000 pounds per square inch and literally cracks the shale or breaks open existing cracks and allows the trapped natural gas to flow. While geologists and engineers believe that there is little risk that the fracking “water,” a mix chemicals and water, will somehow infiltrate groundwater reserves though a fissure created by the fracking there are other routes of contamination and impact. It is believed that the intervening layers of rock would prevent a fissure from extending thousands of feet to the water table, there are other risks in how we build wells and fracture the shale. There have been documented cases of seepage into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells. There are also places where groundwater is only several hundred feet above the gas reserves as they are in Wyoming and groundwater is more easily directly impacted by fracking.

Though it is unlikely that the strontium and barium and radioactive materials that occur naturally in the brine in the Marcellus shale, will flow from the shale through a crack or fissure up thousands of feet to the groundwater supplies, there are still other routes of contamination a portion of the fracking water is recovered and reused, disposed or stored. In fact, there have already been several high-profile cases of groundwater contamination. According to the PA Department of the Environment surface spills and shoddy construction practices (by Cabot Oil) allowed natural gas from a shallow deposit above the Marcellus to drift into the drinking-water wells of 14 Pennsylvania residents. The state is currently investigating traces of toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene chemicals that are sometimes used in fracking and are common in fuel found in some of the drinking water wells in the area. These could easily be long present contaminants from leaking underground storage tanks, but the residents did not regularly test and document their water quality historically.

According to the US Geological Survey in 2000 the United States used about 323 billion gallons per day of surface water and about 84.5 billion gallons per day of ground water. Although surface water is used more to supply drinking water and to irrigate crops, ground water is vital in that it not only helps to keep rivers and lakes full, it also provides water for people in places where visible water is scarce and rural areas. To survive over time, a population must live within the carrying capacity of its ecosystem, which represents a form of natural capital. One of the most important elements is potable water. Without water there can be no life. As populations grow water is needed for drinking, bathing, to support irrigated agriculture and industry. In the quest for fuel and wealth we can not forget our need for water.

The recharge of groundwater and the possibilities for its abstraction vary greatly from place to place, owing to rainfall conditions and the distribution of aquifers (rock and sand layers in whose pore spaces the groundwater sits). Generally, groundwater is renewed only during a part of each year through precipitation, but can be abstracted year-round. Provided that there is adequate replenishment, and that the source is protected from pollution, groundwater can be abstracted indefinitely.

Groundwater forms the invisible, subsurface part of the natural water cycle. Any attempt to accurately model the groundwater component of the water cycle requires adequate measurements and observations over decades. The computer models in common use in the United States only address the shallower groundwater and surface water interactions; GSFLOW (USGS) and ArcHydro (ESRI) are two commonly used models. Proper study and modeling of groundwater has not yet been done, rules of thumb and common knowledge assumptions are utilized instead of facts to assess the risks to water. This is irresponsible when pumping 2-3 million gallons of chemically laced water a mile into the earth. In hydraulic fracking water is pumped into the shale formation at 9,000 pounds per square inch and literally cracks the shale or breaks open existing cracks and allows the trapped natural gas to flow. To reach the gas deposits requires drilling though a couple of miles of earth and rock using “common knowledge” that our groundwater will not be impacted. In addition, natural gas which is methane and a significant greenhouse gas, escapes from the well heads due to imperfect operations, grouting and sealing. It is estimated that between 1% and 8% (depending on who is doing the estimating)of the natural gas escapes in this way.



This past spring, the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board was created to identify the measures that can be taken to reduce the environmental impact and improve the safety of shale gas production utilizing fracking. Their report was issued today after 90 days. The report had a rational approach to regulation recommending disclosure, testing, evaluation and modification of regulation and practices based on the information and data obtained. The report is to some extent a collection of the best regulatory framework among the states and covers little new ground overlooking some of the significant questions. This is a work product of a subcommittee at the Department of Energy that reports to the Secretary of Energy. EPA will be the regulatory agency and is currently engaged in a multi-year study of hydraulic fracturing. http://www.shalegas.energy.gov/resources/081111_90_day_report.pdf

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fracking Contaminated a Drinking Water Well



Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known is the pressurized injection of water with chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid cracks open or enlarges fractures in the rocks and shale. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing when the pumping stops and the pressure is released. Natural gas will flow from the fractures in the rock and shale into the wells increasing the recovery of the methane.

Historically, shale wells had been drilled vertically and then hydraulically fractured with 80,000 gallons or less of water and sometimes water and diesel. Diesel use is no longer allowed. However, today the most efficient method for developing the vast low-permeability Marcellus shale reservoirs is high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Wells used for hydraulic fracturing are drilled vertically, vertically and horizontally, or directionally and may extend more than 8,000 feet below ground surface or less than 1,000 feet. The wells can extend several thousand feet horizontally, potentially allowing impact to properties and water supplies far away from the well heads. Fifty thousand to 350,000 gallons of water may be required to fracture one well in a coalbed formation while two to five million gallons of water may be necessary to fracture one horizontal well in a shale formation. Water used for fracturing fluids is acquired from surface water or groundwater in the local area.

No one has ever looked at what the long term implications are for the hydraulic balance and groundwater supply when fracking occurs. The removal of millions of gallons of water, the fracturing of the geological formations, and the high pressure injection of contaminants even at low concentrations into the subsurface could cause significant changes in groundwater flow and quality. Now, the often repeated statement by oil industry executives and the current EPA administration that no documented case of drinking water aquifer being contaminated with fracking fluid has been proven false.

In last Thursday’s New York Times was an article by Ian Urbana outlining information that was part of a 1987 E.P.A. report to congress titled “Management of Wastes from the Exploration, Development and Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas and Geothermal Energy.” This three volume report was brought to the attention of the New York Times by Carla Greathouse, the study’s lead author. Corroborating documentation was obtained from state archives or from the agency’s library by the New York Times. It appears despite claims to the contrary, EPA has been aware of at least one well documented case of drinking water well contamination from fracking for 25 years. In addition, there are reports from several states noting contamination of drinking water wells in association with fracking. One New York state report reads: “Because of possible underreporting by individuals whose drinking water was contaminated and difficulties in detection, the full extent to which injected brines have contaminated underground sources of drinking water is unknown. However, 23 cases of contamination have been confirmed and 4 are suspected.” http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/216377/doc-reader-with-epa-report.pdf
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/drilling-down-documents-7.html#document/p1/a27935

In some parts of the country, groundwater is the primary source of drinking water. Residents of 34 of the 100 largest cities in the United States rely on groundwater, as do about 95% of rural households. My own home in the rural crescent would be worthless without my well. Groundwater needs to be protected from anything that can contaminate, damage the water table or impair well production potential. Groundwater hydrology is not fully understood and impairment is not easily seen, only slowly experienced. Groundwater contamination is a particular concern to many of the most vocal opponents of fracking, and although earth’s cleansing capacity is limited, impairment to groundwater storage, flow and well productive capacity should be of equal or greater concern. .

About half the population of the United States depends on groundwater for a significant portion of its drinking water. To help protect these supplies from contamination, the Congress passed Part C of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. This law requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish an underground injection control (LJIC) program. Through this program, EPA, directly or through delegation to states, regulates the design, construction, and operation of underground injection wells, which inject wastes and other fluids below underground drinking water sources. It is time that EPA make their first priority the protection of groundwater.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nutrient Trading Markets, a Regulatory Pipe Dream

Under the Clean Water Act Virginia is required to meet the “waste load allocations” contained in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. This can be accomplished though the Watershed Implementation Plans, WIP I and II, using a combination of agricultural BMPs, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and improvements in stormwater management. If Virginia fails to meet these goals EPA will use the only regulatory sticks they have to force compliance. This could mean reducing Virginia’s federal funds for water quality or it might mean EPA directly permitting facilities in Virginia. This could mean more stringent requirements for wastewater treatment plants, MS4s, other stormwater permitting and confined feedlot operations.

So given the state of the federal budget (or lack there of) it seems a fairly certain that that Virginia will have to find a way not only to fund meeting the TMDL, but to get the local communities to embrace the WIPs, implementing the various strategies to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution. First, many existing wastewater treatment plants will have to be upgraded and any future population growth will require additional upgrades. These are major capital projects that will impact sewer fees within the communities served. We cannot meet the TMDL goal by only addressing wastewater treatment plants. Even if we could, there would still be a need for nutrient smoothing as expansions and technology improvements happened in spurts. Existing stormwater control systems will have to be upgraded in addition to having future development meet much more stringent current and future standards. Finally, agricultural nutrient management will have to be improved and widely implemented.

Much of the coastal area and northern Virginia is suburban. Curtailing future stormwater runoff by adopting low impact development, LID, techniques in new housing and in other development projects would, in many cases, not involve significant additional costs, but it will not achieve the goal of reducing the current nutrient and sediment pollution level as required under the TMDL. In addition, significant regulatory and business practices would have to change to implement LID. The changes would have to include zoning policies, current construction practices and building codes and any change is costly. The impervious surfaces associated with development like concrete sidewalks and asphalt roadways, and the buildings themselves create increased stormwater flow. Instead of soaking into the ground and recharging groundwater, rainwater runs across paved areas, collecting used motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants. Under the TMDL mandate LID would not be enough to allow for any future construction in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Further nutrient reductions would be required to decrease the total nutrient load in the linear fashion dictated by the EPA. These nutrient pollution reductions could be achieved by requiring that new housing and other land development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed “offset” any new nutrient pollution load it generates by reducing the nutrient load elsewhere. These offsets could be provided directly or through the payment by developers of an “offset development fee.” The money from the fee could then be spent for upgrading stormwater control systems at older developments. This will have the effect of pushing up the cost of real estate in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by raising the cost of construction by the required fees. Existing housing and commercial building values would increase by the offset fees as well. Offset development fees are just one way to achieve this goal, but possibly the most painless. Another possible way to achieve the required reductions in nutrient and sediment pollution is to require all homeowners and building owners to implement improved stormwater control. The costs of these controls might not be reasonable in some cases, and lets face it, Virginia is struggling to get homeowners to appropriately maintain their alternative septic systems, adding stormwater control requirements does not seem likely to succeed.

Finally, it has been suggested that another way to achieve the TMDL goals is the regulators darling- the nutrient pollution trading model. Conceptually, pollution trading is appealing as a cost effective and flexible way to achieve and maintain water quality goals. However, I believe that it will prove impossible to create a pollution trading market place because of fatal flaws in the conceptual model. First, from a Bay-wide watershed perspective, the lowest-cost reduction efforts are not necessarily located within the watershed where a reduction is needed and the TMDL reductions do not appear to be tradeable on an intrastate basis. So the effective market for trading may be much too small to establish a market place. Uncertainty in reductions from agricultural sources cannot be entirely eliminated and must be implemented or maintained and funded every year, indefinitely, into the future. Monitoring and verification of BMPs are costly. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/documents/lrNutrientTradingInTheStateOfVirginia.pdf

The regulators envision private entities that purchase large quantities of credits from nonpoint sources for the purpose of re-sale to potential buyers, such as regulated point sources. The regulators envision firms that are willing and able to accept and somehow manage the risks associated with trading fictional credits that have no other value, in an undeveloped and miniscule sized market place with an irregular demand based on economic and population growth and regulatory mandated decreases in the TMDL. In addition, the time lag inherent in BMP installation and verification will magnify the market instability and inefficiency by lagging market signaling.

The regulatory vision of a vibrant nutrient market cannot be achieved. In an economic sense, the regulations create an endowment- a regulatory endowed asset. New generation of nutrient pollution and sediment are prohibited while old activities are allowed (but must decrease over time). Unfortunately, unlike a really good asset, you can not value it, sell it or borrow against it and these are all requirements for property exchange. You cannot create a market without property rights that can be owned and sold. In addition, since the allowed activities and endowed asset are created by regulations they can vanish at regulatory whim.

There is no true economic value of a BMP (regulatory compliance not withstanding) so that installation cannot be financed and this would have to be a cash investment market that installs and maintains BMPs to have credits ready on demand. There are markets that function without credit, but the returns are venture capital returns (or illegal drug returns). In addition, BMPs do not pay “rent” and unlike bonds they cannot be warehoused, instead they are often seasonal and require expenditures and maintenance to continue to be viable. A series of nutrient markets can not succeed within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Commonwealth would be better served by regulators and local planning boards working together to effectively price and sell offsets to developers and wastewater treatment plants then ensure that they are installed and maintained if necessary.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fracking and Drinking Water Problems

On July 28th 2011 the EPA proposed standards that would require oil and gas well operators to cut emissions of volatile organic compounds, VOCs, (including methane) with fracking projects required to reduce VOC emissions by 95%. This is the second step EPA has taken in reexamining fracking. The documentary film “Gasland” created a groundswell of support for EPA to reexamine the impact of fracking on drinking water supplies and EPA announced in March 2010 that it will study the potential adverse impact that fracking may have on drinking water and developed a study plan with advise from their independent Science Advisory Board Environment Engineering Committee. Most of the Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing controversy has been focused on Pennsylvania and New York, but the Marcellus Shale runs through Maryland to Virginia. http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/02ad90b136fc21ef85256eba00436459/d3483ab445ae61418525775900603e79!OpenDocument&TableRow=2.1#2

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known involves the pressurized injection of fluids commonly made up of mostly water and chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) are partially recovered and returned to the surface or deep well injected. Natural gas will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the wells allowing for enhanced access to the methane reserve.

Wells used for hydraulic fracturing are drilled vertically, vertically and horizontally, or directionally and may extend more than 8,000 feet below ground surface or less than 1,000 feet, and horizontal sections of a well may extend several thousands of feet away from the production pad on the surface. This allows potential impact to properties and water supplies far away from the well heads. Over the past few years, the use of hydraulic fracturing for gas extraction has increased and has expanded over a wider diversity of geographic regions and geologic formations beyond its original use in old oil and gas fields to revitalize them. It is projected that shale gas will comprise over 20% of the total U.S. gas supply in the next 20-35 years. http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/index.cfm

Given expansion in the use of fracking it seems appropriate to reexamine the potential consequences. The 2005 energy law exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It has been suggested by some that particular “loophole” was created for Halliburton, a company once headed by former Vice President Cheney and one of the companies that helped pioneer fracking and is a supplier of fracking fluids. A more likely explanation is that the energy industry managed once more to be exempted from regulation. The 2004 EPA study “Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs” states that EPA reviewed 11 major coal basins mined for coalbed methane and saw no conclusive evidence that water quality degradation on underground drinking water supplies had occurred as a direct result of the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids.

The report goes on to state that “Although potentially hazardous chemicals may be introduced into USDW (underground source of drinking water) the risk posed to USDW by introduction of these chemicals is reduced significantly by groundwater production and injected fluid recovery, combined with the mitigation effects of dilution and dispersion, adsorption and potentially biodegradation. Additionally, EPA has reached an agreement with the major service companies to voluntarily eliminate diesel fuel from hydraulic fracturing fluids that are injected directly into USDW for coalbed methane production.” http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/wells_coalbedmethanestudy.cfm

However, the Marcellus Shale covers an area in Pennsylvania where the coal and gas rights were separated from the land title generations ago so that many people live on land where they do not own the gas and coal rights and fracking can occur adjacent to or beneath their homes. Much of the concern with fracking has been direct contamination of drinking water supplies with methane and the additives in the fracking water, but serious study should be given to the potential to impact groundwater flow and reservoirs through the fracking process.
Fracturing fluids can be up to 99% water. The volume of water needed for hydraulic fracturing varies by site and type of formation. Fifty thousand to 350,000 gallons of water may be required to fracture one well in a coalbed formation while two to five million gallons of water may be necessary to fracture one horizontal well in a shale formation. Water used for fracturing fluids is acquired from surface water or groundwater in the local area. Wastewaters from the hydraulic fracturing process may be disposed in several ways. The water that flows back after fracturing may be returned underground using injection well, discharged to surface waters after treatment to remove contaminants, or applied to land surfaces. Not all fracturing fluids injected into the geologic formation during hydraulic fracturing are recovered. The EPA estimates that the fluids recovered range from 15-80% of the volume injected depending on the site. No one has ever looked at what the long term implications are for the hydraulic balance when fracking occurs. The removal of millions of gallons of water, the fracturing of the geological formations, and the injection of contaminants even at low concentrations into the subsurface could cause significant changes in groundwater flow and quality. I jealously guard my groundwater supply and would be outraged if fracking or for that matter even massive pumping of that quantity of groundwater would occur anywhere within 5 miles of here (which covers the recharge zone up Bull Run mountain and the hydraulic barrier of the river. The water is a valuable resource and should be guarded and protected. http://www.epa.gov/safewater/uic/pdfs/hfresearchstudyfs.pdf