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Drilling has had no impact on Beaver Run Reservoir water quality

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Four years of deep-well drilling at one of Westmoreland County's largest water sources has left the water at Beaver Run Reservoir untainted despite several spill incidents nearby, Indiana University of Pennsylvania tests show.

Students and faculty from IUP monitor water quality at the 45 producing horizontal Marcellus shale wells operated by Consol Energy's CNX at the reservoir in Bell and Washington Townships. Testing began in 2011 and will continue for a fourth year under a $75,000 contract with the university.

“So far, there hasn't been any real changes,” said Nathan McElroy, associate professor of chemistry at IUP and co-chairman of the Beaver Run project.

“We've found a few seasonal things but nothing linked to drilling. The quality of the reservoir is pretty much the same quality of water throughout Pennsylvania,” McElroy said.

Beaver Run Reservoir provides water to more than half of the customers of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County — more than 120,000 homes and businesses in five counties — including all customers in Murrysville, Export, Delmont, Penn Township, Trafford and Manor. IUP, through its Energy Sustainability Initiative, posts its findings on a public website, which are linked on the authority's website.

Consol officials are pleased with the testing, which was initiated by the water authority.

“It's a good thing,” said Katherine Fredriksen, senior vice president, environmental strategy and regulatory affairs, for Consol.

“It's an external validation of what we're doing at the reservoir, that independent look that the community is seeking.”

Several of the gas wells have been drilled just a stone's throw from the water supply. For the first two years of testing, the university didn't focus on the drilling sites. Instead, testing was done on streams and tributaries to the reservoir. This past year, testing expanded to include water and air quality at the drilling sites.

“They've brought some ideas to the table we've been able to implement,” said Jack Ashton, assistant manager for the authority.

Ashton said the IUP testing shows that the gas wells have not endangered the water supply. But that isn't necessarily evident when looking at results on the website. The data details technical measurements and chemical analyses of samples taken during inspections.

McElroy said that will change this year, when the project's website is upgraded to put the results in perspective for those outside the energy industry.

“We want to make sure the public can understand,” McElroy said.

The authority also posts regular updates from Consol on drilling, including spill updates. The driller has had a number of spill incidents at the reservoir, though state Department of Environmental Protection officials said none have contaminated the water supply. Since June 2013, there have been three incidents that resulted in citations at the reservoir.

On June 3, 2013, DEP cited CNX Gas after a fracturing-fluid spill at the Kuhn 3D pad in Bell Township. On Aug. 6, 2013, CNX was cited for a drilling-water spill at the Mamont South 1E pad in Washington Township. Both spills were confined to soil, which was excavated.

On June 11, 2014, DEP cited CNX Gas after a containment leak led to a friction-reducer spill at the Shaw 1A pad in Washington Township. Craig Neal, vice president for Northern Appalachia gas operations at Consol, said the company reports any incidents to the DEP and the authority without prompting.

“An important part of our relationship with the water authority is our communication,” Neal said. “Any event that occurs, they know. We self-report everything. DEP doesn't find any spills. We report them.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz and Rich Cholodofsky are staff writers for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2365, or dkurutz@tribweb.com. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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