Baseline water testing: what is it and why is it important?

Mora County, New Mexico recently completed a baseline water well sampling and testing protocol on a number of private and community drinking water wells on land that has either been leased for natural gas drilling or is near leased land. This means that County residents now know exactly how clean their water is, so that if water appears contaminated in the future, they can test it and compare the results to the baseline results.

The testing was conducted by a state-certified lab and looked for known hydraulic fracturing chemicals, methane, heavy metals, and radioactive substances. The good news is that Mora County water is currently very clean. By conducting baseline testing, residents can prove changes in their water in the future. The burden of proof of contamination often falls on residents, and only if they can find and afford a lawyer to represent them, Needless to say, many residents do not have the resources to go up against big oil and gas companies and their lawyers. Credible baseline data would help them if they think their water has been contaminated.

Fortunately for Mora County, money was raised from private sources for this testing. In Pennsylvania, Trout Unlimited is organizing the training of local volunteers around the state to be water monitors and collect baseline data from local streams. Also in Pennsylvania, the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America is initiating a program to test water quality in streams and looking for additional funding.

Baseline data are essential to properly monitor water quality. Yet so far we are only seeing a few instances in our entire country where it is being done, and local citizens and volunteers are struggling to come up with the cash. Collection of independent baseline data needs to be a required part of the process that oil and gas companies must complete before being permitted to drill.