drilling mudThe Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), a Natural Gas industry backed organization, started building a database about 2 years ago.  The purpose of the database is to collect information about the water quality of private wells in Pennsylvania.

When a homeowner complains about their water being contaminated by natural gas drilling activities, MSC, the driller in question, the various industry front groups and public relations campaigns, like Energy-In-Depth (EID) are quick to drag out the standard talking point of “Water was like that before drilling”.   Usually they will also toss in the fact that Pennsylvania has no regulations governing the construction of private water wells, and this is why the “water was already like that”.

Critics of this excuse point out the differences between PRE-DRILL water tests and POST-DRILL water tests, where POST-DRILL water test results often show much higher levels of methane and other contaminants.

A 2011 Penn State study found 40 percent of private wells across the state failed at least one Safe Drinking Water act water quality standard before drilling occurred, most frequently coli form bacteria, turbidity and manganese.  The study looked at 233 water wells in proximity to Marcellus gas wells, with samples taken before and after drilling, and also samples taken from wells where no drilling was happening.     The study was funded through a grant by Headwaters RC&D Sinnemahoning Stakeholders Group.

With the database MSC is going to clear up the mystery of was water like that before or not.


Kathryn Klaber, MSC president, states the database, from the very beginning, is designed to be a TRANSPARENT process and to really raise the importance and profile of pre-drill data.

Transparent?  Really?  Nope.

The database is not available to the public, and there is no indication it will be made publically available in the future.

The database is only available to the natural gas companies and only portions of it available to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

One researcher at Indiana University of Pennsylvania does have access, but he had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Apparently transparency depends on how you define transparency.  As far as the public is concerned, the MSC database is as transparent as drilling mud.  Transparency for the DEP is not much better.


As previously stated, the database is a project of MSC, and MSC is a natural gas industry group.   It is not a regulatory agency, nor does it have any authority to enforce regulations or otherwise force its members to comply with any standards or regulations.  Presumably, because MSC lacks authority, participation by its members in the database is voluntary and DEP does not require natural gas drillers to participate in the database.

There is no mention of who, if anyone, will be verifying the accuracy and completeness of the data.

QUESTION #1:  Which natural gas drillers are participating and how complete and accurate is the data?

The article stated about 2 dozen companies have started to up-load data, but these are MSC members.  How many non-MSC members are drilling PA and won’t be participating?

The natural gas drillers up load their PRE-DRILL tests to their very own INTERNAL section.   From the INTERNAL section, drillers would review the information and at some point can share it.   At what point is the information shared?  It’s up to the driller.

QUESTION #2: What won’t the drillers share and why?

DEP will only have access to the shared portion.

QUESTION #3: For a more accurate picture, wouldn’t make sense for DEP to have access to ALL of the data, and not just what a driller wants to share?

A driller is only uploading PRE-DRILL tests.  Typically a driller will perform ONE pre-drill water test on private water well.   ONE test.

However as the documentary, Triple Divide revealed that according to DEP one water test is insufficient.   DEP and the natural gas drillers maintain, one test is only a snapshot of water conditions for that particular day and do not reflect long term water quality.  DEP further stated water testing should be done at least 4 times a year.  Discounting of a single pre-drill  test as a baseline comparison of a post-drill test to determine the impact of drilling on a water well was done at the insistence of the natural gas industry.  (See: DEP Protecting the Energy Producers)

QUESTION #4:  How credible is the database if ONE PRE-DRILL water test is insufficient to determine an accurate picture of water quality?

QUESTION #5:  Why isn’t POST-DRILL water tests included?

Scant and skewed as the DEP shared portion of the data will be, the issue of the RIGHT-TO-KNOW requests has been raised.    StateImpact’s request to discuss the database with DEP was declined.

Once the industry supported MSC database has been sufficiently populated with voluntarily uploaded data, and the drillers have selectively decided what to share, don’t be surprised if there’s a press release saying  “water was like that before”, with DEP as the back-up choir.


© 2013 by Dory Hippauf


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