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Baseline groundwater quality from 34 wells in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, 2011 and 2013

July 11, 2014

Wayne County, Pennsylvania, is underlain by the Marcellus Shale, which currently (2014) is being developed elsewhere in Pennsylvania for natural gas. All residents of largely rural Wayne County rely on groundwater for water supply, primarily from bedrock aquifers (shales and sandstones). This study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey (Pennsylvania Geological Survey), provides a groundwater-quality baseline for Wayne County prior to development of the natural gas resource in the Marcellus Shale. Selected wells completed in the Devonian-age Catskill Formation, undifferentiated; the Poplar Gap and Packerton Members of the Catskill Formation, undivided; and the Long Run and Walcksville Members of the Catskill Formation, undivided, were sampled.

Water samples were collected once from 34 domestic wells during August 2011 and August and September 2013 and analyzed to characterize their physical and chemical quality. Samples were analyzed for 45 constituents and properties, including nutrients, major ions, metals and trace elements, radioactivity, and dissolved gases, including methane and radon-222. The quality of the sampled groundwater was generally within U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) drinking-water standards, although in some samples, the concentrations of a few constituents exceeded USEPA drinking-water standards and health advisories.

The pH of water samples ranged from 5.5 to 9.3 with a median of 7.0. The pH was outside the USEPA secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL) range of 6.5 to 8.5 in water samples from 14 of the 34 wells (41 percent). Eleven samples had a pH less than 6.5, and three samples had a pH greater than 8.5. Dissolved oxygen concentrations ranged from 0.2 to 11.5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) with a median of 4.7 mg/L. The dissolved oxygen concentration was less than 1 mg/L in water samples from 6 wells; 5 of these 6 water samples had a pH greater than 7.7.

Concentrations of dissolved methane ranged from less than 0.00006 to 3.3 mg/L. Methane was detectable in 22 of the 34 wells sampled (65 percent). Methane concentrations were greatest in the 5 samples with pH of 7.8 or higher, ranging from 0.040 to 3.3 mg/L. These samples also had among the lowest concentrations of dissolved oxygen. Three water samples, which had sufficient dissolved methane concentrations (greater than 0.9 mg/L), were analyzed for isotopes of carbon and hydrogen in the methane. The isotopic ratio values fell within (two samples) or close to (one sample) the range for a thermogenic natural gas source.

The total dissolved solids concentration ranged from 33 to 346 mg/L; the median concentration was 126 mg/L. Sodium concentrations ranged from 1.07 to 116 mg/L; the median concentration was 9.42 mg/L. The sodium concentration exceeded the USEPA health advisory for sodium of 20 mg/L in water samples from 7 of the 34 wells (21 percent).

Concentrations of dissolved arsenic ranged from less than 0.06 to 21.8 micrograms per liter (µg/L); the median concentration was 0.59 µg/L. Water samples from 2 of the 34 wells (6 percent) exceeded the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 µg/L for arsenic. Concentrations of dissolved manganese ranged from less than 0.15 to 61.5 µg/L; the median concentration was 0.42 µg/L. A water sample from 1 of the 34 wells (3 percent) exceeded the USEPA SMCL of 50 µg/L for manganese; the concentration was less than the USEPA lifetime health advisory of 300 µg/L for manganese.

Activities of radon-222 in water from the 34 sampled wells ranged from 110 to 7,180 picocuries per liter (pCi/L); the median activity was 2,105 pCi/L. Water samples from 33 of the 34 wells (97 percent) exceeded the proposed USEPA MCL of 300 pCi/L, and 4 water samples (12 percent) exceeded the USEPA proposed alternative MCL of 4,000 pCi/L for radon-222.

Differences in groundwater chemistry were related to pH. Water with a pH greater than 7.6 generally had low dissolved oxygen concentrations, indicating reducing conditions in the aquifer. These high pH waters also had relatively elevated concentrations of methane, arsenic, boron, bromide, fluoride, lithium, and sodium but low concentrations of copper, nickel, and zinc. Water samples with a pH greater than 7.8 had methane concentrations equal to or greater than 0.04 mg/L.

Publication Year 2014
Title Baseline groundwater quality from 34 wells in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, 2011 and 2013
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141116
Authors Ronald A. Sloto
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2014-1116
Index ID ofr20141116
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pennsylvania Water Science Center