Methane In Pennsylvania Water Wells Shows Potential Link To Shale Site


Photo: Jeremy Buckingham MLC via flickr

EDITORS’ NOTE: Earlier, this post was titled “A Second Government Report Links Groundwater Contamination To Fracking.” To clarify, no government agency directly connected fracking to the contaminated water at this site.  Rather, Duke University scientist Rob Jackson uses EPA data to contend that the natural gas development contaminated the water wells.
Bloomberg’s Mark Drajem and Jim Efstathiou Jr. report the EPA has found evidence fracking for natural gas contaminated groundwater in Pennsylvania.

It’s the second government-backed study to assert such a link published in the past seven days.

Last week, the EPA said a USGS study had confirmed an earlier study concluding fracking contaminated in a small Wyoming town. 

The latest study found drilling activity by Cabot Oil and Gas in Dimock, Penn. had caused methane to seep into the water table.

In a 2010 consent order, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that 18 drinking-water wells in the area were “affected” by Cabot’s drilling, Bloomberg writes.

Oil companies have argued it is difficult to differentiate between naturally occurring methane and methane produced by fracking. 

For example, Lisa Molofsky, an environmental geologist at GSI Environmental Inc., an environmental-engineering consulting firm in Houston, established a range of chemical signatures in the form of the ratio of heavier to lighter carbon, and heavier to lighter hydrogen molecules in the gas.

In the recently published EPA samples from Dimock, Bloomberg reports, two households had methane that fell within that range. Three others had values nearby.

“The EPA data falls squarely in the Marcellus space” established by Cabot’s scientists, said Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University. That evidence backs up his findings linking gas drilling and water problems in the town of Dimock, applying the very methodology that Cabot established to try to debunk it, he said. 

The driller is disputing the findings.

Cabot maintains that its operations haven’t contaminated homeowners’ wells, and its scientists say further analysis shows this gas isn’t from the Marcellus, a mile-deep formation running from New York to the southwestern tip of Virginia.

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