Water Well Rules Proposed for Pennsylvania

Mary Wilson & Essential Public Radio Staff January 10, 2012

A Pennsylvania lawmaker says that more than 20,000 private water wells are drilled every year in Pennsylvania, but a lack of regulations means that there’s nothing to ensure water quality for homeowners. Water quality has been a focus in the ongoing Marcellus shale drilling debate.

Representative Ron Miller (R-York County) said that lighting your well water on fire was not the discovery of the movie Gasland by Josh Fox. “Many of my college roommates and friends were from the northern tier, and there were stories then of people who could hold a match to their faucet and light the water on fire,” said Miller. “Natural gas migration, it exists. It existed long before the Marcellus gas wells were drilled, long before fracking.”

Miller believes that natural gas migration is one of the problems that might be avoided if the state had better rules governing how private water wells are drilled.

The fight over regulating private wells has been simmering in Harrisburg for years. Miller remembers the debate about a decade ago when one of his colleagues proposed a set of new rules. The legislation was mired in a controversy that Miller said centered on a misconception.

“It wasn’t true, but what was alleged at the time was that people would be charged for usage of their well-water. That is absolutely — wasn’t true at that time, and is absolutely not true now,” said Miller. In fact, said Miller, a 2002 state law prohibits the state from metering private wells.

Miller is proposing new construction standards that are based on the findings of the governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. “I am hopeful that this will not turn into the controversy [now that] we’ve had two studies recommending in recent years that we have these standards.”