A reader attended the water testing seminar in Lewistown last Wednesday and provided a detailed report of the proceedings. His report was an eye opener for me. My key takeaways:
- It is absolutely essential for landowners to do baseline water testing to protect their water and property. If you don’t do it, you are completely vulnerable to contamination from drilling, and will have no recourse if it happens.
- To protect your water from contamination from oil drilling, you have to create a document that will withstand a legal challenge. This means you have to have it done by an independent professional who does it according to exacting standards. The promises by oil companies to perform the testing are self serving — this is your water, and you need to be responsible for protecting it.
- While in a perfect world it might be possible for oil companies to exert care to prevent the migration of toxins in frac water from aquifer to aquifer, in the real world of oil exploration (as we have seen in North Dakota and Wyoming), it is impossible to prevent migration and contamination. This is a huge issue for the Beartooth Community as oil companies begin to ramp up activity.
- We should hold a meeting like this in Red Lodge so landowners and residents can understand the criticality of this issue for themselves.
Reader’s Report from Lewistown
“The meeting was crowded, with about 45 attendees, mostly from Daniels, Fergus and Petroleum Counties. Most were concerned about leasing and exploration, with many expecting that we are beginning a period of extensive drilling and fracking, although nobody had evidence that this has started. I was there because discussions in Red Lodge of “free” baseline water collection or testing done either by an oil company or a sub paid by them is a scary proposition. Who pays the piper calls the tune.
“Adam Sigler of the MSU Extension in Bozeman gave most of the presentation. One point he stressed throughout was the importance of not generalizing about water testing. You have to understand the particular geography, geology and hydrology of an area before you can understand the possibility of chemical fluid contamination and migration from one location to another. Dealing in generalities is dangerous, and could miss risks that are peculiar to a local environment. To me, this raised a flag about an oil company coming in and volunteering to do baseline testing, and Adam confirmed this.
“Sampling: water samples must be taken after a minimum of three well volumes of water are drawn prior to sampling, in order to be considered samples of the aquifer and not samples of the casing, pipes, pressure tank or hot water heater. As a general rule, measure from the standing water level in the well to the bottom of the well:
- 4″ well (inside the casing diameter) has a capacity of 00.65306 gallons per foot
- 6″ well has a capacity of 01.46938 gallons per foot
- 8″ well has a capacity of 2.61224 gallons per foot
“You multiply water depth in feet by the given volume per foot, then multiply by 3 to determine the total gallons to be flushed before sampling begins.
Creating a legal record
“He spent a fair amount of time talking about ‘self interest bias’ and the possibility of ‘legal contamination’ of a sample. Since a baseline test can become part of a legal proceeding if there is subsequent contamination, water samples must be collected by a disinterested and professionally qualified and trained third party. The documentation needs to be written, witnessed, and saved, and needs to include the chain of custody from the collecting person and site to the lab and the time interval between collection and testing. This by itself is a complicated process and really brought home to me how critical it is to get a quality sample. You’ve got to include the particulars of collection and transport — container origin, integrity, post-sample sealing, labeling, and any required agitation and refrigeration. The tests must be performed in a lab certified to do the particular test by people qualified and experienced in doing those particular tests.
“In other words, you’re not just doing testing, you’re creating a legal record of the state of your water at a given point in time. If you don’t do this right, you’re going to get caught in a legal buzzsaw, with an oil company’s attorney turning your sample into legal garbage.
“You also need to do time-spaced samples of the same water source (one of every source every 90 days for a year) to rebut the polluter’s certain argument that the increase in X chemical is a natural stream or well seasonal variation.
Where to go for help
“The local county conservation district (Carbon’s is in Joliet, Stillwater’s is in Columbus) may be persuaded to do baseline water testing of wells, springs and streams for “producers” (framers or ranchers producing livestock or crops, including grazing for livestock. Reclamation and development grants might be available from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to local agencies to survey aquifers of producers”
“MSU Extension Service by county can test and interpret for domestic wells.
“Kyna Hogg of Pace Analytical Labs in Billings was interested enough to attend, brief the attendees and answer questions. Pace is certified for nitrate, inorganics, metals and VOC water testing, but not bacterial (E.coli/total coliform) water testing. She gets points in my book.
“Joe Meek of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality was recommended as a starting point for finding well logs.”
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