CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams in CU-Boulder's water quality laboratory filters a sample for analysis. 

(Photo: Courtesy of University of Colorado, Boulder)
A new program at the University of Colorado Boulder helps residents who live near oil and gas development test their water.

“Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC) co-founder and Director Mark Williams says.

The state recommends that well owners test water annually for nitrates and bacteria. A new guide encourages well-water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample.

“Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams says. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

CWERC recommends collecting spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons.

“Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a tool for people who want to test their water themselves or for those who need information to help negotiate water-testing arrangements as part of surface-use agreements with drillers in their area.”

The “how to” guide shows well owners how oil and gas development or other activities might affect their groundwater and spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater.


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