The Use of Water Sensors to Examine Water Chemistry Related to Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Development

Open Access
Gorski, Irena Patricia
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Susan Louise Brantley, Thesis Supervisor
  • Maureen Feineman, Honors Advisor
  • Marcellus Shale
  • Geochemistry
  • Water Sensors
  • Incidents of Contamination
  • Citizen Scientists
  • WaterBot
  • S::can
  • CATTfish
With conflicting information about Marcellus Shale natural gas activities and resulting water contamination coming from pro versus anti-drilling sources, it can be difficult for Pennsylvania citizens to judge the safety of their water. Even after methane contamination has occurred, it has been difficult to prove whether the source was Marcellus drilling activities or something else such as natural seepage. This paper presents a quantitative analysis of what incidents of contamination have occurred along with what can be done to track future incidents and prove the source of contamination. Three water sensors were also tested for their accuracy and ease of use for scientists and nonscientists around Pennsylvania to collect background geochemical data for their wells and nearby streams. Results show that there have been tens of incidents of contamination to land and water in northern and western Pennsylvania from January 2008 to March 2013 but increased regulation seems to have been decreasing the amount of major incidents of environmental impact since 2008. Also, improvements need to be made on all three sensors to improve their accuracy and handling of harsh Pennsylvania conditions including high sediment loads in streams and freezing winter temperatures. It is recommended that more sensors with the ability to collect data such as total dissolved solids and possibly barium and strontium be tested out to determine their accuracy, ease of use, and ability to track Marcellus related contamination compared to the ones tested in this study. Once the best sensors are found, it is recommended that these be deployed around Pennsylvania with citizens in areas where there is currently natural gas development or it is expected in the future. With public education about these sensors and collection of data from them, incidents could be found faster, background levels around Pennsylvania can be measured, and citizens could get involved in controlling their water’s safety hopefully leading to a cleaner natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.