Preparing For and Handling Common Complaints by Private Water Well Owners Related to Coal Bed Methane, Shale Gas and Other Unconventional Development Programs
A major public concern with unconventional oil and gas development occurring today is the potential impact to ground water or private well owners. When development occurs in a populated rural area, it’s not long before the operators and regulators are hit with complaints from private water well owners suspecting that their water well is impacted from nearby development activities. The current public fear about hydrofracturing practices is unwarranted and should be easily defended.
While a few complaints can be linked to real issues such as poor cement jobs, leaky pits and other conventional releases and accidents, the vast majority turn out to be due to poor quality water well design, construction and lack of maintenance that mimic issues cause by actual releases. While actual releases and impacts to ground water need to be acknowledged, public education is required to demonstrate that many of the issues are related to naturally occurring conditions, poor construction and maintenance practices, or other historical activities. Water wells can become non-productive and the quality of water degraded due to regional over use of the aquifer, drought, well fouling, or the limited life span of water wells. Methane in a water well occurs naturally from bacteria, natural gas seeps, or the result of the coals or shales present in some aquifers. Since methane occurs naturally and is not toxic, it’s excluded from routine water quality tests in private wells, until oil or gas development occurs. Then it is “discovered” as a problem. Done prior to development, a proactive baseline testing program can head off these problems with stakeholders. If 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.
Some states have or are proposing regulations to require baseline monitoring. Procedures and results are presented that help protect operators from complaints and potential law suits. The authors recently assisted in creating educational materials and presentations for water well owners to educate them on common problems including natural methane, other natural or anthropogenic contamination, and proper well maintenance. Methods presented assist developers in locating pre-existing conditions and potential problem areas and allow them to quickly dismiss unfounded complaints.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90142 © 2012 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, April 22-25, 2012, Long Beach, California