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Data from Shallow Groundwater Wells: Can You Rely On It?

Ensuring Quality Results from Shallow Groundwater Monitoring

With the proliferation of oil and gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale, exploration activities have occurred in closer proximity (within 2500 feet) to private residences that utilize groundwater as a source of potable water in their homes.  Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio have predrill sampling guidelines for potable water supplies prior to the start of drilling.  Often, exploration and production (E&P) companies receive complaints from homeowners alleging that drilling activities have impacted their water supply.  When a complaint is received, the E&P companies are obligated to resample and analyze the potable water to investigate the issue.  The results of those samples are used to make important legal and potentially expensive decisions.

You may be surprised at some of the issues that are identified when the field sampling notes and laboratory data are critically reviewed.  Just because a laboratory has a State or Federal accreditation, there is no guarantee those results are correct, never mind legally defensible.  Some recent examples of issues encountered during field note and laboratory data review include:

  • missed holding times;
  • use of incorrect methods by the laboratory;
  • mistakes in laboratory equipment calibrations;
  • switching samples;
  • reporting of the wrong list of analytes;
  • sample results calculated incorrectly; and
  • incorrect sampling techniques.

A critical review of the laboratory data recently identified high concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and chloride during the winter months that were most likely related to road and driveway deicing activities. Additionally, a thorough review of field notes revealed that over the counter sampling equipment was the source of detected constituents of concern.

The quality of the field and laboratory data that is generated from these sampling activities is critical because it will be relied on to make decisions about the next course of action be it legal and/or remedial.  Potentially expensive decisions will be made based on the reported data.  Responsible and experienced environmental managers know that chemistry (independent third-party data validation) and geoscience (sampling oversight and review) quality assurance support embedded into these processes provide reassurance that the field notes and laboratory data can be relied upon to address residential potable water complaints.  Environmental Standards has nearly 28 years’ experience with chemistry and geoscience quality assurance, and has supported a number of E&P companies ensuring that their groundwater laboratory data are reliable and suitable for remedial decision-making.  For the highest level of confidence in the quality of your environmental data, or if you are concerned about the quality of historical data, contact us.