Whats in your water well? | PostIndependent.com

Whats in your water well?

Area residents worried about what effect those big natural gas drilling rigs may be having on their water wells might want to start paying attention to a threat thats a lot bigger, but much harder to see.Anthony Gorody is a geological consultant who has looked at more than 1,000 water wells in drilling country in the Piceance Basin, centered in western Garfield County. He says bacterial contamination is the biggest problem he sees.Most of you have serious problems with bacteria and probably dont even know it, Gorody told owners of domestic water wells during a presentation at EnCanas 2005 Energy Expo at the Garfield County Fairgrounds recently.These bacteria can discolor water, cause corrosion and scale buildup on pipes, and reduce well water production, Gorody said. He said homeowners can take steps to reduce bacteria and other contaminants, but the problem is that no one regulates water for private wells. Homeowners should be checking their well water quality once a year, he said.Many homeowners where drilling occurs are benefiting from a new trend by energy companies to test water wells before drilling, to obtain baseline data that helps monitor potential impacts of drilling, Gorody said. He said EnCana is taking a leadership position in doing such testing, which is somewhat costly to do, sometimes running $2,000 to $3,000 per well.Gorody, who has done consulting work for EnCana, said several other companies also are doing a lot of testing, including Noble Energy, Presco and Williams Production.I think its a real public service to have someone come out and do this, he said.Among the contaminants that testing can identify are cancer-causing substances, such as benzene and toluene that are components of natural gas, but also can get in wells from gasoline spills on the surface, Gorody said. Natural gas being developed by energy companies shouldnt get in domestic groundwater, Gorody said. The gas they are drilling for is thousands of feet, and drinking water wells typically are only a few hundred feet deep.Those wells tap water in small geological formations that are so localized that even the water tends to have sharply different concentrations of substances in it, depending on the depth of the well. Water from shallower wells has a lot of lime, deeper well water has a lot of sodium bicarbonate, and deeper yet, the water tends to be salty. The well water doesnt tend to mix with water at higher levels, due to the isolated geological formations being tapped.This is not a mixing environment. This is a highly insulated environment, its a highly protected environment, naturally, Gorody said.That same environment should keep natural gas and domestic well water separate, especially if drillers properly cement off around their wells to prevent the gas from migrating upward, Gorody said.Last year, state regulators said poor cementing was a factor when gas from an EnCana well south of Silt surfaced at West Divide Creek, resulting in a $371,200 fine against the company.Gorody said naturally occurring methane gas is commonly found in Colorado drinking wells. Theres no health standard for dissolved gas in water. However, methane can float to the top of water and reach the air, where it isnt toxic to breathe, but can cause dizziness and headaches if it displaces enough oxygen, he said. The bigger danger is explosion, which can occur when methane concentration in the air is between 5 and 15 percent.At 7,000 feet in elevation, water can hold up to 2 milligrams per liter before the methane escapes into the air. Concentrations above 10 mg/L per liter become a concern, Gorody said. He said 90 percent of local wells have less than 10 mg/L of methane in the water. Even at 10 mg/L , a person would need to take a 12-hour shower in a totally confined environment to be in danger, Gorody said.If you have any kind of ventilation at all it mitigates these problems, he said.Gorody said the baseline water quality reports that homeowners near gas drilling receive are often up to 20 pages thick. The reports can indicate maximum safe levels of substances such as minerals and organic compounds that can be reduced through a variety of measures.The level of water in a well also should be tested, Gorody said. Sometimes bacteria can plug the perforations that let water enter the well, reducing production.Youve got to get rid of that slime, he said.Bacteria contamination can occur from such causes as flooding and poor well construction, which result in surface water getting into the well, or contamination during well work when equipment is put down the well without being disinfected.Wells contaminated with bacteria can be cleaned through scrubbing, jetting or other means. Then the wells are chemically treated and the bacteria are killed. Homeowners should consult a professional in dealing with bacterial contamination, Gorody said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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