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


Water Research Center

Barium In
Drinking Water
Water Testing Kits

Mr. Brian Oram, PG
B.F. Environmental Consultants Inc.

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

Concerned about Natural Gas Development ?

The Water Research Center is a strong supporter of environmental education and the company feels privileged to make available this informational fact sheet for free as a means of environmental education, awareness, and outreach.  In partial fulfillment of that obligation we are proud to make this report available to YOU.  There are a number of contaminants that threaten the safety and quality of our nations drinking water, but none is more misunderstood than barium. Barium can suggest the presence of industrial waste, mixing of natural saline and brine waters, salt water intrusion, and other sources.

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,  gastrointestinal problems, muscle weakness, 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, corrosion inhibitors, deicing products, and high octane fuels.  Barium is used to make dyes, fireworks, ceramics, electrical components, and glass, plus it is used as a component in drilling muds.  

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, iron, manganese, calcium, and sodium and elevated levels of the following anion (negatively charged ions) like chloride and bromide.  The primary sources of barium related to natural gas development would include saline water, flowback water, brine water, connate water (water trapped in the formation at the time the material was deposited), production water, and as an additive in drilling muds, i.e.,  barite, and natural deposits of halite (See Figure 2).   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.  Therefore, it is likely that as the water is exposed to more sulfates in the environment the barium would precipitate out as barium sulfate.  Barium does not tend to bioaccumulate, i.e., does not build-up over time in your system, does not bind to most soils directly, but can form insoluble complexes or bind to organic complexes. 

What is the background level of  barium in PA's surfacewater and groundwater? 

This is difficult to answer, but from a review of the data submitted by private well owners in Pennsylvania it would appear that the value is normally less than 2 mg/L with typical value of < 1 mg/L.    There are areas in Pennsylvania were freshwater and private wells are naturally impacted by saline water.   One well known example is Salt Springs in Susquehanna County.   This saline seep has a barium level of over 160 mg/L and saturated levels of methane gas.  (Video Link)

Thanks to the Citizens Groundwater Data - We found a private well in Susquehanna County that is reportedly 300 feet deep that produces water with a methane gas content of about 10 to 15 mg/L and barium content of 4 mg/L.   In addition, the bromide level was 1.5 mg/L, chloride over 250 mg/L, strontium 5.6 mg/L, and radon level in water at 577 pCi/L.   If you are thinking that is an example of an adverse impact from the Marcellus Shale Development, this is not correct.  This testing was part of a baseline predrilling water test at a time when there was no active or past drilling within this region and the area does not have any historic oil and gas development.    The nearest drilled Marcellus Shale Well was over 1 mile away in a separate watershed.  The cause for this water quality condition appears to be mixing or induced mixing of the fresh and saline water aquifer. The saline water aquifer does flow, but it flows very slowly.  The only exception is when we drill private wells that are too deep or along or near fractured zones that are connected to the saline water.   The Citizen Groundwater Database suggests that at least 5 % of private wells may be influence by saline water and these wells could have elevated levels of total dissolved solids, barium, strontium, chloride, gross alpha/beta, bromide, sodium, chloride, iron, manganese, and naturally occurring methane gas. It is critical that we work together as a Community to document, compile, and track the quality of our groundwater and surfacewater resources.  For more information about Western Pennsylvania Saline and Brine Water Chemistry related to Oil and Gas Development.

Barium - Is regulated as a primary drinking water standard, because it is associated with a potential health concern.   The short-term or acute problems include gastrointestinal disturbance and muscular weakness and the long-term impacts associated with high blood pressure. It has also been suggested cause kidney damage and cause problems with the nervous system. The following are the treatment systems that can be used to remove barium from water ion exchange, reverse osmosis, lime softening, and electrodialysis.

For 25+ years, I have been suggesting well owners get there water tested, here are some options:

a. Informational Water Testing
b. Private Well Owner and Watershed Survey - Free Radon in Water Testing
c. Baseline Testing Related to Natural Gas Development - Chain-of-Custody

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

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For More information about the Water Research Center, 
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 Attn: Mr. Brian Oram, Professional Geologist (PG)
Water Research Center
B.F. Environmental Consultants Inc.
15 Hillcrest Drive
Dallas, PA 18612

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