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Beaver Run water untainted by shale gas wells, tests show

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 10:00 p.m.

Three years of testing at the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County's Beaver Run Reservoir has found drinking water untainted by Marcellus shale gas wells, drilled just yards from the water supply.

Testing will continue for a fourth year under a new contract with Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The school will be paid $75,000 this year for students and faculty members to inspect the 11-billion-gallon reservoir and surrounding property in northern Westmoreland County.

“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 authority's customers — more than 120,000 homes and businesses in five counties.

IUP, through its Energy Sustainability Initiative, has tested the reservoir since 2011 and posted its findings on a public website.

The authority has leased property to Consol Energy on the 1,300-acre reservoir site in Salem, Bell and Washington townships.

So far, 37 deep gas wells have been drilled, with several located just a stone's throw from the water supply.

Jack Ashton, assistant manager for the municipal authority, said IUP's testing shows that the gas wells have not endangered the water supply.

Initially, the tests focused on streams and tributaries to the reservoir. This year they have expanded to water and air quality at the drilling sites.

“They've brought some ideas to the table we've been able to implement,” Ashton said.

IUP's results are posted on the school's website. The authority's website has a link to IUP's findings.

Those results detail 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 laypeople.

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

The state Department of Environmental Protection cited Consol Energy's CNX Gas after a spill of fracturing fluid at Kuhn 3D pad in Bell Township on June 1, 2013. It was contained to soil, which was excavated, the company said.

According to a statement on the authority website, CNX was fracturing a well when a leak occurred at a plumbing union. While workers were repairing the leak, at least 100 gallons of processed fracking water flowed into the soil.

In July 2012, CNX Gas was cited by the DEP because liquid cement leaked into a creek that empties into the reservoir at the Kuhn 3B well pad.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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