By Karl Henkel
Water contamination seems to be the main opposition to oil and gas drilling throughout shale regions in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Many Mahoning Valley residents, specifically in Columbiana County, signed leases with Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. in April. But until drilling picks up, landowners have been urged to take the necessary steps to ensure water remains safe to drink.
“You inevitably will have accidents or spills,” said Christopher Baronzzi, an attorney at the Youngstown law firm of Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell Ltd., who spoke Tuesday to nearly 250 landowners at a seminar at Das Dutch Haus Village Inn on state Route 14. “If you have hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals spilled, there could be groundwater contamination.”
Baronzzi urged landowners who use wells for drinking water to seek comprehensive water tests before oil and gas companies begin drilling. Water from public utilities must meet National Primary Drinking Water Standards, but well water is a landowner’s responsibility.
He said the tests should look not only for bacteria but for chloride, sodium and other elements. For any potential legal action to be taken, the tests must be admissible in court.
“You need the evidence to prove the water quality,” Baronzzi said. “If you can’t use it in court, you might as well not even have it.”
Baronzzi said the tests aren’t just important to ensure water safety, but to protect the landowner if indeed water contamination occurs.
Baronzzi said the ideal situation would be for landowners to conduct several seasonal tests to establish a benchmark for water quality before drilling.
Landowners should use legitimate water-testing organizations including the Columbiana County Health Department’s Private Water Monitoring Program or the Mahoning County District Board of Health’s Laboratory Services Division, depending on jurisdiction, he said.
Tests at the Mahoning County location start at $107 for one that checks levels of chloride, sodium, sulfate and total dissolved solids. The most comprehensive test starts at $488.
It’s the spillage on the surface that could contaminate water more so than fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — which is the process of extracting oil and gas from underground reserves by pulverizing rock with pressurized water, sand and chemicals thousands of feet below the ground.
That aspect of shale drilling thus far has been deemed safe by Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She said in May the environmental risk of fracking may be overblown.
“I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing,” she said.
The EPA, however, is conducting a study on the potential adverse affects that fracking has on drinking water. A final report isn’t expected until 2014.
Water pollution has been heavily discussed in the Valley since the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said it would not renew the city of Warren’s brine-water permit. The decision essentially halted the business endeavors of Patriot Water Treatment, which disposes of pre-treated water into the city’s wastewater system.