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Baseline water testing: what is it and why is it important?

Amy Mall

Posted February 9, 2011

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Mora County, New Mexico recently completed a baseline water well sampling and testing protocol on a number of private and community drinking water wells on land that has either been leased for natural gas drilling or is near leased land. This means that County residents now know exactly how clean their water is, so that if water appears contaminated in the future, they can test it and compare the results to the baseline results.

The testing was conducted by a state-certified lab and looked for known hydraulic fracturing chemicals, methane, heavy metals, and radioactive substances. The good news is that Mora County water is currently very clean. By conducting baseline testing, residents can prove changes in their water in the future. The burden of proof of contamination often falls on residents, and only if they can find and afford a lawyer to represent them, Needless to say, many residents do not have the resources to go up against big oil and gas companies and their lawyers. Credible baseline data would help them if they think their water has been contaminated.

Fortunately for Mora County, money was raised from private sources for this testing. In Pennsylvania, Trout Unlimited is organizing the training of local volunteers around the state to be water monitors and collect baseline data from local streams. Also in Pennsylvania, the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America is initiating a program to test water quality in streams and looking for additional funding.

Baseline data are essential to properly monitor water quality. Yet so far we are only seeing a few instances in our entire country where it is being done, and local citizens and volunteers are struggling to come up with the cash. Collection of independent baseline data needs to be a required part of the process that oil and gas companies must complete before being permitted to drill.

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Jean-Paul BourqueFeb 11 2011 07:53 AM

Hi Amy Mall , Natural Resources Defense Council(NRDC),

Susan Sullivan's comment below may interest your NRDC colleagues in the northeastern USA.

In New Brunswick (eastern Canada) where I live, the NB Conservation Council, Sierra Club and other environmental groups network with NRDC and other reliable sources like ProPublica about shale gas development. Ms Sullivan describes potential shale gas operations impacting river ecosystems which are VERY important hydraulic sources of potable water in eastern USA.

Comment to article on EPA '''life cycle''' natural gas study, in ProPublica:

'''''''Susan Sullivan

Feb. 9, 7:59 p.m.
The Delaware River Basin, comprised of over 15,000 acres, The headwaters of the Delaware feed the resevoirs that provide NYC with its unfiltered drinking water. As the Delaware continues its journey toward Philadelphia, in provides drinking water to that city as well as Trenton, New Jersey. This year, the River has been designated America’s Most Endangered River because of the threat of the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. On the PA side, drilling has already commenced, and contaminated the drinking water of DimockPA, among other places, Dimock is about 60 miles from the Delaware. At this time, the Delaware River Basin is off limits to drilling. This may be about to change as the Delaware River Basin Commission is planning to implement regulations, and then issue permits to drill in the Basin. This can’t be allowed to happen, prior to the release of the EPA study. We are talking about the water supply for 1/5 of the population of the US. Once contaminated, the damage cannot be undone. Google DRBC, and submit your comment before March 16, 2010. Ask them to wait until the EPA issues its study before proceeding. These regulations have no scientific basis. What on earth is the hurry? ''''''

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