Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Effects on Household Water in West Virginia

by Duane Nichols on June 8, 2020

Active horizontal natural gas wells in West Virginia: Red = 10 interview counties

Household Water Security: An Analysis of Water Affect in the Context of Hydraulic Fracturing in West Virginia, Appalachia

From a Publication by Bethani Turley and Martina Angela Caretta, Dept. of Geology and Geography, West Virginia Univ., Morgantown, WV, Jan. 3, 2020

SOURCE: Water 2020, 12(1), 147; Jan. 3, 2020


Hydraulic fracturing has been booming in the last decade in the United States. While natural gas extraction and production has improved the national energy security, it has raised questions around the water security of those communities where extraction is taking place.

Both scientists and residents are concerned about hydraulic fracturing’s impacts on surface- and groundwater, especially regarding how hydraulic fracturing impacts residents’ access to safe household well water. In the past decade, the Marcellus Shale has been developed in Northwestern West Virginia, yet the human geography dimensions of oil and gas extraction in West Virginia remain to be investigated.

This article, based on 30 in-depth interviews, explores household groundwater insecurity due to hydraulic fracturing experienced by residents (i.e., mineral owners, surface owners, and concerned citizens) in Northwestern West Virginia.

The concept of water affect is used to attend to the emotional and subjective dimensions of water security by unveiling the power, emotional struggles, and mental stress inherent in water testing practices and environmental regulation around hydraulic fracturing.

Water testing is typically conducted by contractors hired by oil and gas companies, but it is mired in delayed test results and incorrect testing procedures, triggering residents’ negative feelings toward oil and gas companies.

This article furthers the understanding of water security, commonly defined in terms of individual access to adequate water quality and quantity, by studying Appalachian residents’ anxieties about well water contamination and uncertainty around the long-term water impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

By investigating the uneven power relations around groundwater in West Virginia, the emotional experiences and responses are articulated to further the notion of water affect as impacting household groundwater security.


All of the research participants asserted that baseline water testing of their water wells must be conducted before any activity related to natural gas extraction occurred on or near their property, even when drilling and fracturing was outside of regulatory setback and presumed liability distances. Baseline water testing is fundamental for judging water’s safety for consumption by tracking the chemicals parameters in well water. Notably, test results are crucial for residents to have legal standing if well water quality changes are detected.

Although water contamination is highly debated, the participants discussed instances in which companies bought out properties because of water contamination. Additionally, some interviewees indicated that their neighbors signed non-disclosure agreements after having their homes purchased or having remediation systems put in place by companies.

However, many residents asserted that they did not trust the companies to do the baseline test, because they argued that companies did not want to be truthful about what is in the water, in order to avoid blame. Interviews show that one factor in individuals’ violated trust is delayed test results. Oil and gas companies hire third party contractors to carry out water testing.

The interviewees reported that the water test results were not returned to them promptly and often the test results were delayed by many months. Delayed test results produce anxieties about water quality and about the reasons why the results are delayed.

See the main article for more and greater detail.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: