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Study finds high methane levels in Pa. drinking water

Published: Tue, June 25, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press


New research in Pennsylvania demonstrates that it’s hard to nail down how often natural-gas drilling is contaminating drinking water: One study found high levels of methane in some water wells within a half-mile of gas wells, while another found some serious methane pollution occurring naturally, far away from drilling.

The findings represent a middle ground between critics of the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing who claim it causes widespread contamination, and an industry that suggests they are rare or nonexistent.

The contamination from drilling is “not an epidemic. It’s a minority of cases,” said Rob Jackson, a Duke University researcher and co-author of the study released Monday. But he added the team found that serious contamination from bubbly methane is “much more” prevalent in some water wells within 1 kilometer of gas-drilling sites.

Methane is an odorless gas that is not known to be toxic, but in high concentrations it can be explosive and deadly.

The Duke paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is an expansion of a 2011 study that attracted widespread attention for its finding that drilling was polluting some water wells with methane. The new study includes results from 141 northeastern Pennsylvania water wells. It found methane levels were an average of six times higher in the water wells closer to drilling sites, compared with those farther away. Ethane, another component of natural gas, was 23 times higher in the homes closer to drilling.

Some of the methane was at dangerous levels. The study found 12 homes with levels above the recommended federal limit of 28 milligrams per liter, and 11 of those water wells were closer to gas-drilling sites. Jackson said the researchers believe that faulty drilling can cause methane pollution but that natural causes can, too. Eighty percent of all the water wells they tested contained some level of methane, including many with no nearby drilling.

In 2011, Pennsylvania strengthened rules for the steel casing and concrete around the top of a gas well that are meant to protect water supplies from contamination, but some older wells weren’t drilled to those standards.

There was some good news, Jackson said: The Duke researchers haven’t found any evidence that chemicals from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have contaminated water wells.

“We’re not seeing the things that people are most afraid of,” Jackson said, referring to the chemicals used in fracking.


1VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

As I have often posted in the past, I feel the danger of fracking is in the handling of the fluids and materials. We have learned through past experiences that gas and oil drillers cannot be trusted, so they must be punished severely when a spill is committed. This is the only way drillers listen. When they face the prospects of serving years in prison and massive fines, they start to listen.

Remember, these drilling companies and their employees are transients. They are not tied to this area and move on to another site or even another state. I have been observing operations in Trumbull as well as Western Pa. Some sites are clean and professional, but some are not careful in keeping sludge, muck, mud and stones off the roadways when their trucks leave the drilling sites. Their efforts seem to be in attempts to clean the roadway, rather than in preparing a better base and driveway for their trucks. Who knows what those truck tires are carrying when they enter the highway and they spread it out along the roadway for up to a mile or more. This "stuff" ends up in our ditches, perks into our soil and runs into streams and rivers. This is NOT professional management of operations, this is reactive mitigation attempts resulting from poor operations and it should not be treated as an accepted norm.

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2Letstryagain(218 comments)posted 3 years, 1 month ago

Everyone is entitled to their feelings, but we need to deal with the facts as well.
" Jackson said the researchers believe that faulty drilling can cause methane pollution but that natural causes can, too."

The most damning information from this report is that methane levels were higher in areas near the well. Another section of the article states that methane, in different concentrations, occurs naturally without any drilling. Could it be that drillers when looking at the characteristics of a good place to drill, drill in areas of high methane concentration in the water?

We have not learned from the past that oil and gas drillers cannot be trusted. We have learned, over and over again, that every profession, every industry, has a lot of good actors and a few bad actors.

I am all in favor of smart regulation that protects our resources. Accidents are going to happen, just like car crashes, but there is no point in damning an entire industry on the actions of a few.

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