Public concern is growing about water well related issues in areas of unconventional oil and gas development and, more generally, about the potential risk to regional aquifer systems. Operators and regulators are frequently notified of complaints from water well owners suspecting that their water well is being damaged by drilling activity. Statistically and scientifically, the increasing public hysteria about hydraulic fracturing practices damaging water supplies is unwarranted. Recent studies show that naturally occurring " contamination" and other common water well problems are the cause of most of the concerns and complaints.
On occasion, releases of oil, gas and drilling chemicals do occur and must be acknowledged, remediated, and prevented. However, water wells frequently become non-productive, or the water quality degraded, due to many other common issues. Methane occurs naturally from bacteria, natural gas seeps, shales or coals present in some aquifers. Since methane is not toxic, it has been excluded from routine water quality tests. Some regulatory agencies now require that nearby water wells are tested for methane and other constituents before and after drilling. This testing, and other studies, has shown the presence of methane and other issues is more common that previously realized.
Many states now have regulations requiring baseline water testing and monitoring to address these concerns. Some industry associations are working closely with regulators to develop programs based on best practices. Such cooperative interaction can be a highly effective model to mitigate water-related concerns associated with development of unconventional resources.
Prior to unconventional resource development, a proactive baseline testing program can head-off these problems with stakeholders. If, however, such testing is not done prior to development, forensic geochemical methods can typically distinguish the source as natural or anthropogenic, unless it's a natural seep from the same source as the developed resource.
Methods are presented to assist resource developers in the documentation of pre-existing environmental conditions and location of potential problem areas that can allow them to effectively address complaints. These procedures include sophisticated water quality analysis and also the education of water well owners about common problems (natural methane, natural or anthropogenic contaminants,) and proper well maintenance.