A Mansfield University science professor is leading a team to study the existence of water contamination of private wells near Marcellus Shale operations.

Well water samples are being taken from near where Marcellus Shale natural gas wells are located as well as sites where wells have been permitted but not yet drilled. The samples will be tested for barium and strontium. The presence of the two elements would indicate that flowback water from the hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, is interacting with ground water near the gas wells.

When a gas well is first drilled, a hole is bored to just below the aquifer. A steel tube, similar to a flue for a wood stove, is inserted in the hole and cement is pumped from the bottom up on the outside of the tube. The end result is a casing designed to protect against groundwater contamination during the fracking process in which water and other chemicals are injected into the ground to break apart the shale and release the natural gas.

If done correctly, said study leader Paul Wendel, an assistant professor of physics at MU, the casing system works "quite well."

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