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Colorado Water Watch Keeps A Close Eye On Oil And Gas Sites With Public Data

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A screencap from waterwatch.colostate.edu

Homeowners and landowners have long expressed concerns about how the fracking process impacts water quality. Colorado regulations require water testing with a half mile of where a well is drilled. The samples are taken before and after the activity.

But what happens if water quality changes over time?

That question is what researchers at Colorado State University have been pondering. Their demonstration project, a partnership between CSU and Noble Energy, installed monitors at four sites in the Denver-Julesberg Basin near Greeley. In 2013, they began wirelessly transmitting data from the wells to researchers who are watching for changes.

Now CSU Engineering Associate Professor Ken Carlson said the data will be available for the public to review and monitor at Colorado Water Watch. It's a step toward greater transparency, and believed to be the first of it kind when it comes to monitoring water quality near oil and gas sites.

"This isn't an industry effort, this isn't an environmental-group effort, we wanted it to be balanced, and we want the public to feel like they're getting information that wasn't filtered by either side," Carlson said.

The project funding comes from a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

"The missing piece is how do we make sure it's doing what it's supposed to do, and how do we make sure it does it over time?"

Carlson said installing monitors to measure methane gas contamination — a key public concern — is expensive. Instead, the researchers are looking at changes in Oxidation Reduction Potential, a "surrogate" for monitoring changes in methane and other potentially harmful substances.

"If we see a change, we go out and pull samples, and do a more detailed analysis," said Carlson.

The launch of the website comes on the heels of a recent study that found that poor casing and cementing of wells — not the process of fracking — was a key reason behind contaminated drinking water in parts of Pennsylvania and Texas. The industry backed group Energy In-Depth has raised questions about the study.

The recent study findings weren't a surprise to Carlson. He said longer-term monitoring by groups like Colorado Water Watch could be one of several practices to prevent groundwater contamination over time.

"The missing piece is how do we make sure it's doing what it's supposed to do, and how do we make sure it does it over time?" stated Carlson. "That's where monitoring comes in."

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