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Gas drilling isn't harming reservoir water, IUP tests show

Routine water-quality checks at Beaver Run Reservoir indicate that the drilling and production of Marcellus shale wells have no affected on the public drinking supply, according to officials of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

Quarterly analyses of the reservoir water have been conducted by students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for the past eight months. The authority last year paid the university $55,000 to perform the tests.

"This tells us so far there's been no effect on the water, positively or negatively. It's all the same to us," authority manager Chris Kerr said.

There are 13 working gas wells on land leased by the authority on the 5,000-acre reservoir property in Washington, Bell and Salem townships in the northern end of Westmoreland County.

Drilling has recently been completed for an additional 14 wells, according to John Ashton, the authority's assistant manager.

Students from IUP's geography and geoscience departments have collected water samples from the 1,300-acre reservoir, tributaries and streams on the property and drainage areas near the drilling pads.

Samples are being analyzed by chemistry students and results will be posted, according to IUP's public website.

So far, the tests have found the presence of some metals and other signs of industrial activity near the reservoir, but nothing that would threaten the public's safety, according to Brian Okey, an associate professor for geography and regional planning at IUP.

"As far as it being a risk to the public health, it is not," Okey said.

About a half-dozen students were out during the first weekend in March for the third round of water sampling. The water will be tested again in June.

Okey, who is coordinating the water collection, said the most troubling finding has nothing to do with Marcellus shale drilling. The main concern has been acid run-off related to old coal mines south of the reservoir.

That run-off is being diluted in the reservoir and filtered out by the authority's water treatment plant, Okey said.

"It's a complex area around the watershed and what we've found so far around the drilling pads is not super-alarming," Okey said.

The authority's contract with IUP expires in June. Negotiations are expected to begin soon to extend the water testing program.

Ashton said the authority is working to create a link on its webpage to IUP's.

The county authority serves more than 120,000 water customers in Allegheny, Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland counties.

Additional Information:

On the Web

Results of the water testing at the Beaver Run Reservoir will be posted at http://www.iup.edu/page.aspx?id?120005 .

Additional information has been posted by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County at http://www.mawc.org/marcellus-shale/ .

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