“As soon as we signed our mineral rights contract with SEECO, I contacted my neighbors to find out how deep there wells were drilled. If SEECO decided to drill anywhere near us, I wanted to be able to present that information to them so they would know how deep to put the casings.
See the article below:
Dirty well water raises stink near drilling sites
BY LAURA STEVENS
Posted on Sunday, July 5, 2009
For 10 years, the well on Rebecca and Jerry Cockrell’s property delivered clean, clear water.
In December 2006, the water from the Cockrells’ well suddenly turned murky. The color varied between orange and gray. Toilets looked filthy. A film developed on a glass of tap water and stone particles settled to the bottom.
The well water turned muddy just as a natural-gas company drilled a well a few hundred feet from their house.
The Cockrells had been excited when Southwestern Energy Co. started drilling. The couple owned the mineral rights to their land and stood to make money from any natural-gas production.
“Well, the next morning I got up,” Jerry Cockrell said, “and I ran water in my sink to wash my face, and it was just gray as slate. Whoa!”
After Southwestern drilled a second well nearby, the Cockrells’ water problems worsened.
“The sulfur smell was so bad, you could not stay in the house,” Cockrell said. “When you’d take a shower, you just had to hold your breath.”
The Cockrells’ initial excitement turned to frustration as they installed a series of expensive water filters. They also asked Southwestern, which does business in Arkansas as SEECO Inc., to take responsibility for the change in the couple’s well-water quality.
The Cockrells are among at least a dozen residents in the Fayetteville Shale natural-gas drilling area who have complained about private well-water problems in the wake of drilling activity.
No one keeps tabs on how many Arkansas water-well owners living near gas wells have complaints about decreased water quality, because private water wells are not regulated.
Public health officials test well water only for bacterial contamination, and wells are exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Other state agencies with regulatory authority over water have no direct responsibility for private water wells.
Studies in other states, including Alabama, Ohio, Colorado and Wyoming, indicate that some private well-water issues could be connected to naturalgas drilling.
But natural-gas drilling companies and some experts say there’s no proof that drilling activity is a direct cause of subsequent water-well problems.
The companies say they take steps to protect drinking-water aquifers and they note that the gas-containing shale lies much deeper than the aquifer.
Drilling in the Fayetteville Shale, which stretches across north-central Arkansas, started after Southwestern announced its first successful test well in 2004. Other exploration companies scrambled to grab up land and mineral rights soon after.
Today there are more than 1,300 natural-gas wells in the shale zone, with more being drilled every day.
About 21,000 residents in that seven-county area use private wells. Public water systems serve the rest of the 300,000 people in Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Pope, Van Buren, White and Woodruff counties.
Administrators for seven of the area’s public systems said they know of residents who have connected to public utilities after claiming that the quality of their well water declined after nearby natural-gas drilling.
Private well owners have complained about water problems in connection with natural-gas drilling activity to all four Arkansas agencies with some water-quality oversight – the Oil and Gas Commission, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Health and the Natural Resources Commission.
But tests on complainants’ water found no traces of the chemicals used in the drilling fluids, officials said.
Dick Cassat, chief lab supervisor at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said that water he’s tested after residents complained about nearby gas drilling was simply higher in iron and manganese, two naturally occurring substances in Arkansas groundwater sources.
Fracturing fluids can contain acetone, arsenic, benzene, cyanide, mercury, lead, uranium and zinc, as well as oil, grease and chloride.
During the fracturing process, the driller blasts perforations into the horizontal bore hole in the shale and shoots millions of gallons of a mixture of sand, water and chemicals at extremely high pressure to open up cracks in the rock, which then allows the natural gas to be captured.
“The fluids weren’t there” in inspections of water wells, said state Oil and Gas Commission Director Larry Bengal, “but there may have been a disruption of that near-surface water due to mechanical influences of the operation.”
It’s possible that natural-gas drilling disturbs the quality of well water as the drill bit cuts through the aquifer, Bengal said, but “there’s no way of proving that because there’s nothing you can measure, other than the circumstantial evidence.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studied complaints of well-water contamination related to natural-gas drilling in Wyoming, Montana, Alabama, Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico in 2004.
In Alabama, one water well “contained a milky white substance and had strong odors shortly after a fracturing event,” according to the study. After six months, the water smelled worse and occasionally had black coal particles.
But the Alabama Oil and Gas Commission said groundwater from the region often contained high concentrations of iron-reducing bacteria, “which can sometimes result in such water having an unpleasant taste or odor, or containing a white or red-brown, stringy, gelatinous material.”
Changes in water quality, appearance or water flow can also happen suddenly, even if water was previously of a high quality or quantity, Alabama regulators told the EPA.
The EPA found that some of the changes in water quality and quantity, such as those reported to Alabama authorities, “might be associated with some of the production activities,” such as “surface discharge of fracturing and production fluids, aquifer/formation dewatering, water withdrawal from production wells, methane migration through conduits created by drilling and fracturing practices, or any combination of these.”
Residents in Texas’ Barnett Shale region have seen similar problems to those found in Arkansas, according to interviews with residents and officials from the area.
But the EPA concluded that the complaints had no connection to natural-gas fracturing fluids. The EPA subsequently exempted fracturing fluids from federal safe-drinking-water standards.
Activists, such as the Oil & Gas Accountability Project, say the problems mentioned in the study raised enough questions that the EPA should have required further study before the exemption. The project works with people to protect their property and the environment from the “devastating impacts of oil and gas development,” according to its Web site, www. earthworksaction.org.
An investigation by Pro-Publica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces public-interest journalism at propublica.org, found that the EPA ignored evidence that showed that the fracturing process might contaminate water and found that the agency negotiated directly with the oil and gas industry before making its decision.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
Charlene Parish, 70, said her well water had been perfect for 30 years until a natural-gas company started working near her property in Bee Branch.
First, there were small disturbances when the company did seismic work nearby, causing her water to cloud up for a few days. Then in December, “the whole house shook,” she said. “And ever since then, it’s just been muddy.
“I kid you not, it scared the daylights out of us whenever we were sitting here and that boom went off and the house shook like it had,” Parish said.
Several neighbors felt the same boom, she said, but they are all on city water.
Southwestern Energy was fracturing a well that day.
Parish is convinced that’s what ruined her well and the well of her tenant, whose water smelled so badly of sulfur that he could no longer drink it. Her water was yellow, and her toilets filled with silt after the water settled overnight. She drank bottled water for months until she gave in and spent $8,700 connecting the two houses to the public water system.
Parish asked Southwestern to pay for the connection fee, but the company denied all responsibility, she said.
The gas companies have “helped the community a lot,” Parish said. “But when they make a mistake, if they’d correct it and stand behind what they say they would do, I think they’d be a lot better off.”
Alan Stubblefield, senior vice president of Southwestern Energy over Arkansas operations, said there’s no way the company’s drilling would cause the kinds of water-well problems experienced by Parish and the Cockrells.
There’s no documentation that the water problems are related to drilling, he said. If the drilling process affects the water wells, he added, “they’d be producing gas, instead of just muddied up.
“I don’t have an answer for you,” he said. “I don’t know”