Well water contamination in a rural community in southwestern Pennsylvania near unconventional shale gas extraction

J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2015;50(5):516-28. doi: 10.1080/10934529.2015.992684.


Reports of ground water contamination in a southwestern Pennsylvania community coincided with unconventional shale gas extraction activities that started late 2009. Residents participated in a survey and well water samples were collected and analyzed. Available pre-drill and post-drill water test results and legacy operations (e.g., gas and oil wells, coal mining) were reviewed. Fifty-six of the 143 respondents indicated changes in water quality or quantity while 63 respondents reported no issues. Color change (brown, black, or orange) was the most common (27 households). Well type, when known, was rotary or cable tool, and depths ranged from 19 to 274 m. Chloride, sulfate, nitrate, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and strontium were commonly found, with 25 households exceeding the secondary maximum contaminate level (SMCL) for manganese. Methane was detected in 14 of the 18 houses tested. The 26 wells tested for total coliforms (2 positives) and E. coli (1 positive) indicated that septic contamination was not a factor. Repeated sampling of two wells in close proximity (204 m) but drawing from different depths (32 m and 54 m), revealed temporal variability. Since 2009, 65 horizontal wells were drilled within a 4 km (2.5 mile) radius of the community, each well was stimulated on average with 3.5 million gal of fluids and 3.2 million lbs of proppant. PA DEP cited violations included an improperly plugged well and at least one failed well casing. This study underscores the need for thorough analyses of data, documentation of legacy activity, pre-drill testing, and long term monitoring.

Keywords: Marcellus shale; gas wells; hydraulic fracturing; water quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Appalachian Region
  • Escherichia coli
  • Extraction and Processing Industry* / ethics
  • Extraction and Processing Industry* / methods
  • Groundwater / analysis
  • Humans
  • Methane / analysis
  • Natural Gas* / supply & distribution
  • Oil and Gas Fields
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rural Population
  • Waste Water / chemistry
  • Waste Water / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / analysis*
  • Water Quality
  • Water Supply / analysis
  • Water Wells / analysis*
  • Water Wells / chemistry


  • Natural Gas
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Methane