Appalachian Basin

Mayor Offers the Facts on Stray Gas – Anti’s Just Don’t Get It

Last night, I attended the Sullivan County Energy Task Force meeting where the guest speaker was Burt Waite, a geologist with Moody & Associates, Inc. Mr. Waite also sits on a committee for DEP that looks at issues of stray gas in the Marcellus and is a member of the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA). He also happens to be the Mayor of Cochran, PA.  He is a man who wears many hats, and who knows a lot about this issue, what is being done to prevent it by operators, and what DEP is doing to regulate it when something does happen. Needless to say, it proved to be a very interesting and informative presentation.

Burt discussed the various properties of methane — that it is colorless, odorless, and lighter than air. He described how there is no federal drinking water standard for methane — not because there’s some sort of scandal here — but because it’s not considered by EPA to be a toxic substance. He said that the sources of methane are from landfills or decaying material, cow manure, coal mines and coal, and natural gas, and he reminded the audience to remember that there are different types of natural gas.

In order to determine the source of stray gas, scientists use isotopic fingerprinting. This means that they can determine the origin of methane and differentiate between different sources — from microbial, to thermogenic, to other forms. See the following video (after the jump) where Burt talks about this:


Mr. Waite stressed several times that issues relating to methane migration and stray gas don’t occur as a result of fracturing a well. When gas is present in a well, in this case “biogenic” gas, it usually means that something organic was buried close to the surface (like rotting fruit trees, in one example he gave) and over time was converted into methane, same process you see at a landfill. He also talked about something called “thermogenic” methane. Most folks think “thermogenic” means “from the Marcellus.” But that’s actually not the case at all. Thermogenic methane can be found in a coal seam, for instance — and then in your faucet, if you happen to drill your water well into one of those.

Waite discussed rules in place at DEP requiring operators to report any findings of methane to the state and homeowner during pre-drilling tests within 10 days. He said that most operators have said that this is unacceptable and go above and beyond the regulation, requiring these test results to be made known and explained to the homeowner IMMEDIATELY. Most believe that if there is a problem, it is very important to let the homeowners know about it as soon as it is known, not to wait 10 days to release the data.

At one point, an activist from the Responsible Drilling Alliance — which is an actually a group that opposes all forms of natural gas development, despite its name —  asked how it could be possible that fracturing doesn’t contaminate water.  The answer, of course, is simple: No one is saying that nothing’s ever gone wrong at an oil or gas site over the past 100 years — heck, we’ve got more than a million active wells in America, with human beings responsible for operating each and every one of ’em. But as for the fracturing process — that thing that service companies do usually in less than 48 hours —  just ask the regulators themselves: they’ll tell you that in more than 60 years, they’ve never had a problem with fracturing.

Burt talked extensively about the casing requirements and how to tell if a well has been properly cased, by the cement flowing back out of the sides. See the following video where he discusses this.


To determine proper casing, operators follow the 80 percent rule. This means that they take .433 times .80 times the feet they plan to place the casing and this gives them the amount of pressure they can put on the well. For example, casing placed at 300 ft. would be 300x.433x.8=104psi. Often times, the pressure being off is what causes stray gas to occur and once the pressure is reduced, the water well will return to normal in a matter of days.

Another point he discussed is that of 3D and 4D seismic testing. Please see this video on how operators are using it to determine the layout of a well and have increased planning on a site.


If you would like to read all about the regulations, treatment options, and other points Burt Waite made last night, please check out his entire presentation here and our Twitter feed from last night where I gave a play by play of what was being said.

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