Wilkes implements Pennsylvania’s first water database

Lyndsie Yamrus, Staff Writer

The Center for Environmental Quality at Wilkes University has established Northeastern Pennsylvania’s first water quality database.
Wilkes University, who works with the Encana natural gas company of North America, has developed this database as a resource for the public. The database was started about three years ago, and its primary purposes are to provide information about the current states of groundwater and surface water, and to try and determine whether or not natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, and other activities, yields any impacts on groundwater.
Dr. Sid Halsor, a professional geologist and geology professor at Wilkes, said “The database is a collection of chemical data on samples of water from water wells.”
Homeowners with wells in the county are asked to submit their data set for the database.
“The database contains over 300 records, each containing a comprehensive set of water analyses,” Halsor said.
Dr. Brian Oram, director of the Center for Environmental Quality, said that all well data from the county’s inhabitants are compiled into the database as only a zip code and location, excluding names, addresses and other personal information.
Property owners with wells send in their data, and the information is explained to them and added to the database.
Oram said that citizens are encouraged to participate in incorporating whatever data they have because it helps us “get a good picture” of water quality, and allows us to track changes that may occur.
The set contains over 50 different compounds and chemical parameters, commonly referred to as analytes, which are targeted, as they could potentially be contaminants from natural gas drilling.
Halsor emphasized that the water analyses are acquired before drilling occurs, creating a baseline of data that future water tests can be compared to. If contaminants are found in water after drilling has occurred, the baseline data can be examined to determine whether or not the contaminants arose from drilling.
Halsor explained that methane, the primary component of natural gas, had been detected in a number of wells before drilling was even started, and that the gas could have formed naturally underground.
“If you don’t have the baseline data, you can’t prove that the compounds came from drilling,”  Halsor said.
Halsor said that the two primary advantages of the database are that it allows us to learn more about the background quality of groundwater and gives us the ability to judge any future impacts from drilling activity that might occur in Luzerne county, as well as the surrounding area.