How to Read a Lab Report

Lab reports are technical documents with several parts that use special nomenclature. The part that we are usually most interested with is the results. The project narrative and quality control segments of the report are important but less accessible for the average citizen. There is also is section which gives information about chain of custody and temperature of the sample or samples when they were received by the lab -- the temperature should be near 0 degrees centigrade.

A lab report can be for a single project consisting of a number of samples. This is often the case when, for example, a number of drinking water supplies are sampled to satisfy the requirements for a permit application. Each sample will have a different ID or name. This can be seen on the header of the results from this stream sample in this report (page 3 of the report) where a stream was sampled at different locations.

The project is D-Well and the sample ID is Downstream. Also note the sample collection date (12/28/2009) and date the sample was received is the same. Samples should be received by the laboratory as close in time of sample collection as possible. Note that the "Matrix" is liquid (sometimes called water on some lab reports); soil samples are also analyzed by laboratories and in that case the matrix would be called soil.

The header for the analysis, either presented as a table header as here or as a header for each chemical, shows the chemical analyzed for, the result, and the unit of measurement. These are the essentials to search for and understand.

In this report chemicals are grouped by categories. Metals include chemicals such as barium, lead, and arsenic.

In this report the downstream stream sample showed barium at 0.024 mg/l. If the unit of measurement were micrograms per liter (ug/l) then this concentration would show as 24 ug/l. It is important to be aware of the unit of measurement when considering lab results and making comparisons with other data.

In this case the unit of measurement for these chemicals is ug/l and in every case no concentration was detected above the minimum detection limit (MDL) of the test used.

When we look at lab reports we look at the results for metals (especially barium in water samples), results for volatile organic compounds (especially benzene), and, if results are available for radiological tests, concentrations of radium 226 and radium 228. These are all substances which have EPA and state maximum contamination limits (MCLs) which are enforceable for ground and surface water contamination. It is also helpful to look at the results for TDS (total dissolved solids) which should mirror in degree results for chloride. High TDS and/or chloride concentrations are indicators of produced fluid contamination. The state is less ready to enforce regulated chronic chloride limits indicating ground or surface water contamination.

Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH) are measured in ranges: gasoline, diesel, and oil. Condensate brought to surface will have a much higher gasoline TPH than produced fluids which resemble brine. This is a short description of TPH and health concerns by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The section on this site devoted to the Buckeye Creek spill has a page about lab reports and results for a specific instance of surface water contamination.


Gas Well Site Visits

Examining Well Sites
How We Examined Well Sites
Environmental Assessment

Table with Links to Wells Visited

47-039-05714 Environmental Assessment
47-079-01492 Environmental Assessment
47-039-02026 Environmental Assessment

2013 Gas Well Workshop

The Details

Plunger Lift Technology on Gas Wells
Fluids Brought to the Surface during Production
Plugging a Well
How To Read a Lab Report
Information the Completion Report Provides
Casing and Cementing

Gas Well Study is the examination of natural gas wells in West Virginia.

Underground Injection Control Class 2 Wells
These wells are used either for the disposal of oil and gas liquid waste or for the enhanced recovery of oil or natural gas.

Gas Well Study Site Visits
Annual reports, environmental assessments, and individual well information.

YouTube Videos
Select videos from the Gas Well Study YouTube channel.

What Happened at Fernow
An investigation into what caused the vegetation death in the land application area after landspraying hydraulic fracture flowback waste.

The Spill at Buckeye Creek
An investigation into a spill from a Marcellus well site into Buckeye Creek in Doddridge county.