Appalachian Basin

Anti Natural Gas Group Does Air Sampling in Wayne County, Pa

NOTE: this was cross-posted on MDN

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability is doing air sampling in Wayne County and in areas with natural gas development.  Jim Willis of Marcellus Drilling News had this to say about it this morning.

The anti-gas group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)—a group supposedly based in Damascus Township (Wayne County), Pennsylvania but with its actual headquarters in Manhattan, NYC—has hired Massachusetts-based Gas Safety Inc. to perform what they call baseline air testing in and around Damascus Township. This is not the first time DCS and Gas Safety have teamed up for a hit job (see this MDN story).

The Damascus study supposedly provides baseline numbers for how much naturally occurring methane is in the air, just in case natural gas development should ever start in the township. Development is on hold everywhere in the Delaware Watershed Basin, which includes Damascus Township, until/unless the Delaware Watershed Basin Commission votes to pass regulations that would allow it. What did Gas Safety find in its so-called “scientific” analysis of methane around Damascus? Let’s just say farmers with pooping cows may want to be concerned that DCS will be coming for them next…

The survey, conducted by Southborough, Mass.-based Gas Safety Inc. for Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, measured methane levels over four days in late August and early September along every public township road.

The study found that concentrations of the gas are “relatively low and reasonably consistent” in the township, with higher levels measured near cows, feed lots or animal pens on farms. The highest spike, of 4.7 parts per million of methane in the air, had no clear source and was short-lived.

Overall, the study found that baseline methane levels away from distinct sources of the gas were less than 1.9 parts per million and that future surveys should find that 99 percent of samples are below 2.01 parts per million to reflect unchanged conditions.

Gas Safety Inc. conducts sampling with a vehicle-mounted instrument that tracks the time, place and methane concentration in air every one to five seconds. It has performed surveys using the same process in the heavily drilled areas of Dimock Twp., Susquehanna County, and Leroy Twp., Bradford County, after methane seeped into water supplies during nearby Marcellus Shale drilling operations.

In comparison to its Damascus survey, the Dimock and Leroy surveys showed a similar baseline methane concentration – about 1.9 parts per million – but markedly higher and more frequent and sustained peaks of between 5 and 20 parts per million that Gas Safety attributed to gas drilling impacts.*

So, Gas Safety says on average, methane in the air should be less than 1.9 parts per million (ppm). That’s what they say they’ve found not only around Damascus, but also around Dimock and Leroy. The broad brush they want to paint with is that “everywhere” the normal for methane is less than 1.9 ppm. Is that assumption correct? And is Gas Safety’s methodology for testing accurate and scientific?

Thomas Shepstone, a regional representative of the natural gas industry organization Energy in Depth, said the comparisons ignore geological differences, including that “Damascus Twp., unlike many areas of Bradford and Susquehanna counties, has never had a history of significant methane migration or burning faucets” that pre-dates Marcellus gas extraction.

“While baseline testing is never a bad idea, the generalizations made with regard to data and the several qualifications attached to conclusions make it a less than reliable assessment,” he said.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Kevin Sunday criticized Gas Safety’s Leroy Twp. surveys, calling them “riddled with bad methodologies and unsubstantiated conclusions.” Scranton (PA) Times Tribune (Nov 5, 2012) – Pre-drilling methane levels measured in Damascus Twp. air

Tom Shepstone’s point, in case the quote of him doesn’t quite capture it, is that some geographies do have naturally occurring methane in higher concentrations in the air—and it’s been that way for centuries. There’s documentation in Susquehanna County, PA all the way back to the mid-1800s that describes ignitable methane—methane in much higher concentrations than 1.9 ppm. To do a few samples here and there and declare 1.9 ppm “the number” is not science at all. It’s a public relations stunt.

Oh, and that one anomalous spike of 4.7 ppm Gas Safety recorded in Damascus but couldn’t explain? We’re pretty sure we know what it was. Gas Safety may want to ask the driver of the testing vehicle about the baked beans he had for dinner the night before. ;-)


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