Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Department

School of Public Health

First Advisor

Meredith Stowe

Second Advisor

Peter Rabinowitz

Abstract

The recent development of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" has increased the economic potential of drilling unconventional and previously untapped natural resources. Shale gas development and production of natural gas is expanding due to these advanced technologies and a strong demand for domestic energy. Geological estimates have calculated that the Marcellus shale, present under much of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia, contains about 1.9 trillion cubic feet of gas. Natural gas from shale is accessed differently from traditional oil and gas extraction due to its advanced technologies of horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing. This type of fracking is defined by the stimulation of natural gas or oil deposits with fracturing fluid, consisting of water, sand to prop the fractures, biocides, corrosive inhibitors and other chemical additives. The entire process of shale gas development includes numerous other stages such as well construction and waste disposal, much of which comes into contact with the water table. To examine potential drinking water impacts, 146 randomized well and spring water samples were collected from May 2012 - August 2012 from Washington County, Pennsylvania and analyzed for over 30 physical and chemical parameters. In addition to environmental parameters, surveys of water well characteristics and water use were conducted. Water results were compared with shale gas development proximity and density from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental protection and water well construction and depth. Of the water results, 71% failed at least one tested parameter when compared to state and federal standards. Barium, strontium, silicon, and magnesium show potential associations with distance to natural gas drilling. Sub-analysis of high density drilling areas shows a stronger association with these contaminants. Mechanisms of contamination could include migration through fracking fluids above or below ground, improper disposal of waste productions, drilling and casing malfunctions or leaks, and poor home water well construction allowing access from contaminants. These results could be useful in the formation of modeling for groundwater contamination near hydraulic fracturing sites, baseline testing near potential shale gas sites, and future research regarding the Marcellus shale.

Comments

This is an Open Access Thesis.

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