Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Barium in Drinking Water and Brine Water Marcellus Shale Citizen Private Well Monitoring

For drinking water the maximum contaminant level set by the EPA and used by the PADEP is 2.0 mg/L or 2000 ppb.   Barium (Ba+2) can cause an increase in blood pressure and affects the nervous and circulatory system.

Barium is a lustrous, machinable metal which exists in nature only in ores containing mixtures of elements.
Barium is a naturally occurring alkaline earth metal more commonly found in the Midwest or in brine water or fluids associated with oil and gas development.  In addition, barium can be found in landfill leachate, coal waste, paints, and high octane fuels.  Barium is used to make a variety of electronic components, in metal alloys, bleaches, dyes, fireworks, ceramics and glass.   With respect to Marcellus Shale development, high levels of barium may also be associated with elevated level of the following cations (positively charged ions): strontium, chloride, lithium, calcium, and sodium and elevated levels of the following anion (negatively charged ions): chloride.  The primary source of barium is most likely the natural saline water that exists below the freshwater aquifer and saline water that had been trapped in the bedrock at the time the sediment was being depositied, called connate water.

Regarding the barium content of the surfacewater and groundwater - this is difficult to answer, but I would probably say a value less than 0.5 to 1 mg/L would likely represent water that is not impacted by saline water.  For one sample, I know that is impact or consists of a mixture of saline and freshwater the barium content was about 1.6 mg/L.  This was not a well impact by Marcellus Shale Development or a spill, but the well was deep enough to permit the mixing of saline and freshwater.

For a NATURAL  saline seep in Susquehanna County, I have seen barium levels of over 160 mg/L.    For production water, barium concentrations may be over 6000 mg/L.  Since the solubility of barium chloride is over 30,000 mg/L, the barium is typically removed using a co-precipitation process by the introduction of bases (High pH solutions or other salts that form a compound with a lower solubility,such as the reaction of barium with sulfate- Solubility of Barium Sulfate is
2.5 mg/L).   If barium is above 2 mg/L, it violates a primary drinking water standard, but it can be easily removed using a water softener.

Barium - Is regulated as a primary drinking water standard, because it is associated with a potential health concern. 

For 20 years, I have been suggesting well owners get there water tested, here are some options:

a. Informational Water Testing
b. Free Manual for Private Well Owners - includes a section on barium
c. Baseline Testing Related to Natural Gas Development - Chain-of-Custody, Certified Testing and More.
4. Need Help Understanding Water Testing Result - FREE Service

Work as a Community - Support the Citizen Groundwater Database - Northeastern Pennsylvania

You can monitor your general water quality at home using a small handheld conductivity meter.


  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0161813X12001945

  2. Yes barium is a primary drinking water standard and it poses a health issue - the drinking water standard is it should be less than or equal to 2 mg/L in water. For treatment, it is easily removed by a water softener.

  3. Why do you think the high Barium conc. is not from drilling process?

  4. Barium - there is a long history of baseline conditions in Pennsylvania were elevated levels of barium are in the freshwater groundwater system. Recent USGS reports easily go back to the 1980s and earlier and the primary source is the natural and artificial connections between the saline and freshwater aquifer and in most cases the artificial connections are because of drilling water wells. Therefore, barium is most likely detectable in most waters, but there is likely 1 to 5 % of existing private wells in PA where the Barium is above the drinking water limit and the source and cause has nothing to do with natural gas or oil development. The cause is that the private wells are too deep and not properly constructed and located in areas were the saline water aquifer is influencing the quality of the freshwater aquifer.

    With this in mind, baseline testing must include barium, because a spill or release of flowback water or production brine could impact a freshwater system (surfacewater or groundwater), that could make things worse than predrilling conditions. Barium may be present at levels that are below the drinking water standard.

    I hope this helps

  5. If you need references, just ask.