Here are some safety steps you may take.
  1. Vent the water well
  2. Obtain a tds meter [& test]
  3. Obtain baseline water tests
  4. Obtain a gas meter [& install]
  5. Obtain predrilling radon test

1.  Vent the water well

Penn State Cooperative Extension – Water Well Venting
PA DEP – Water Well Venting

Venting a water well will help to prevent an explosive well should gas migrate there.  Both Penn State Cooperative Extension and DEP recommend venting water wells in exploitation areas.  The links above are for well venting fact sheets.  If possible, it is also good information to know the depth and flow rate of the well.  The flow rate could possibly lessen or cease as a drilling affect.  A well man can do all of this for you.

It is good to know what kind of well one has, and the manner in which it is connected to the home also.  Depending on your well situation, perhaps a well man can advise how it may be vented, or the info on the fact sheets may provide assistance.  It is good to have the fact sheets in hand when one talks or sees the well man.   Some may not be familiar with the gas migration.  It is not unusual in the Northern Tier Region for folks to have minuscule amount of methane indicated in their baseline water tests.  Take the initiative and vent your water well.

2.  Obtain a TDS meter [& test]

Like anything else, with TDS meters, you generally get what you pay for.  While C.O.G.E.N.T. does not recommend any particular product for purchase, this is just an example of what you might consider purchasing.  [associated calibration packets]

It is easy enough to get in a habit of taking these readings, once a day.  It only takes a few minutes.  It can be done as quick as after taking a shower, brushing teeth, check the meter. Or after doing dishes, check the meter.  It is a good idea to run the water a little to get ‘fresher’ water from the source.  Check the reading, and write it down on the calendar, time, and ppm.  It is easy to get to know your water.  Some meters need to be calibrated every 2-3 weeks, and that takes less than 5 minutes.

While doing a daily check, if there is drilling in the area and water is being affected, then the reading may dramatically change, or spike. This provides the homeowner of some notice which they can follow through and contact DEP and the gas company.  Also, to determine if someone will do a 3rd party test.  It is a personal decision whether or not to obtain one’s own 3rd party test should a situation occur.  DEP must respond within 10 days to your notification.  Both PA DEP and the gas company may want to do tests.

3.  Obtain baseline water tests

Now there seem to be several places doing these tests.  One must have a third party.  If you are not sure what you want to test for — here’s two guides; Penn State Cooperative Extension and PA DEP.

In the AUG 25 2010 edition of the Wyoming County Press Examiner, Bryan Swistock of Penn State Cooperative Extension is quoted:

“If gas drilling has not yet occurred within five miles of your home, it is still a good idea to get a pretest done, Swistock advised. 

One cannot do the test themselves; it is a must to hire a professional. Make sure that a DEP accredited lab is utilized. This will establish the quality of the aquifer prior to drilling.  It is best to have this done prior to drilling.    It is not cheap.  But, it provides the court certified documents, which is extremely important if something goes wrong.    Now, here’s the sticky part.  The decision of when to have one’s water tested.   Depending on your proximity to a gas well, the Operator may test your private water supply.  While there is a DEP presumed liability requirement of a 2500 ft. radius, many operators are testing beyond that distance.

You must use an accredited laboratory.  You can refer to this PA DEP document of accredited labs.

4.  Obtain a gas meter [& install]

Methane Gas and Its Removal from Water Wells in Pennsylvania
Methane Gas and Your Water Well

While C.O.G.E.N.T. does not recommend any particular model, this is an example of what you may want to purchase.  You may or may not need to consider something different.

There is a DEP fact sheet that explains methane [the formal word for natural gas] migration. [link previously above] Gas migrates to a low spot where there is a space, like a well house or a basement.  Natural gas is able to ignite just with oxygen contact, so add a spark from your furnace starting, or a light switch, and you have a nasty explosive situation.  With a gas meter, you have an alarm that will trigger you to get out of the house.  No phone call, no light switch, just get out.  Either could ignite the gas.  While having a gas meter is definitely a safeguard, it is not fool proof.  DEP recommends the unit be placed in the basement.  Most of the units are recommended for basement use, and the alarms are loud.

5.  Obtain predrilling radon test

This was recommended by the local Penn State Cooperative Extension Agent.  It is recommended to have one prior to drilling.  There are home tests available through the Lung Association.  Hardware stores also have economical self-tests.  If one would desire something more thorough, then, one would need to hire a 3rd party.

If you haven’t already tested for radon, consider doing so prior to drilling.  The Marcellus Shale is radioactive.  While drilling or fracing the shale, radon may be released and could migrate into the home basement.  The flowback water contains radioactive elements.  Knowing the current radon level prior to drilling is a good idea, especially should you want to test again later.  This gas, like natural gas is also colorless, odorless, and tasteless.