DEP Debunks Methane Claims In Franklin Township
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has released the results of its investigation of alleged methane migration in Franklin Township, Susquehanna County. DEP’s findings confirm what initial isotopic testing conducted by WPX Energy showed: nearby natural gas development is not responsible for methane in three private water wells in the township.
A statement from DEP released Monday clearly explains the determination (emphasis added):
“After a 16-month investigation, the Department of Environmental Protection has determined that high levels of methane found in three private water wells in Franklin Township, Susquehanna County, cannot be attributed to natural gas drilling activity in that geographical area. DEP’s extensive investigation started in December 2011 and included evaluation of the nearest natural gas wells, isotopic testing and analysis of historical water data to determine the origin of the methane.”
DEP Concludes It Wasn’t Natural Gas Development
The DEP statement continues with greater details of the testing conducted:
“The testing included water samples taken from three private water wells to compare with samples taken from natural gas wells located nearby and with water samples taken from the spring and private water well at Salt Springs State Park, which historically contains naturally occurring methane. The spring is approximately one mile from the affected homes. The testing determined that the water samples taken from the private water wells contained gas of similar isotopic makeup to the gas in the water samples taken from Salt Springs State Park. Additionally, the water wells and spring exhibited similar water chemistry, including the constituent’s barium, iron, total dissolved solids (TDS), chlorides, manganese and aluminum. DEP’s testing also determined that the gas in the water samples taken from the private water wells was not of the same origin as the natural gas in the nearby gas wells.
“Additionally, agency staff evaluated information from a nearby mobile home park public water supply file relating to the its abandonment of a water source in 1998 due to elevated levels of methane, chlorides and TDS. The mobile home park is located approximately 2.3 miles from Franklin Forks, and this water well exhibited similar water chemistry to that of the three residential water supplies being investigated.
“The owners of the private water wells affected by this investigation have been notified of DEP’s determination.”
The WPX Investigation
WPX Energy, the natural gas operator whose well sites were the subject of the of the investigation, has also issued a statement.
“WPX is pleased that DEP’s investigation has shown that our operations were not responsible for any methane migration issues in Susquehanna County. We commend DEP for its diligence and the scientific approach used in their fact-finding effort. WPX takes our commitment to the communities in which we operate very seriously and as a result we employ strict environmental protocols that often exceed state regulations. This approach has enabled us to develop our acreage without negatively impacting Pennsylvania’s water resources or the unique environment of which they are a part. We are proud of our successful record in Pennsylvania and we strive to improve it each and every day.”
The investigation corroborated that the methane in the three families’ water supply wells is a pre-existing condition in the groundwater of Franklin Forks and is not associated or attributable to gas well drilling activity, hydraulic fracturing, or operational activities at the Hollenbeck or DePue natural gas well pads. Here’s some of the science that was used to draw that fact-based conclusion:
- Different data types were collected and evaluated during this investigation including water chemistry, gas geochemistry, methane concentration data, gas well diagnostics, as well as historical evidence.
- The molecular and isotopic compositions for dissolved and gas phase methane reveal that the gas in area groundwater supply wells is early thermogenic in origin, consistent with pre-existing gas previously documented in the area, and with what typically occurs as a natural condition in the upper 1,000 feet of the strata.
- A comparison of pre-drill and post-drill sampling of the residential water sources by the Hollenbeck and DePue natural gas well pads indicate there have been no significant changes in groundwater quality and do not reveal an increase in methane concentration between the pre-drill and post-drill sampling.
- Many of the residential water wells were under several feet of water during the floods of late August and early September 2011 and that changes in groundwater quality in Franklin Forks were reported after those floods. In aquifers that contain methane, significant increases in hydrostatic pressure head from large flood events can either “push” methane horizontally or increase the solubility of methane in water, thereby creating a condition to mobilize and increase existing dissolved phase methane. When the pressure head is reduced by receding flood waters, the solubility of methane is reduced and methane off-gasses from the groundwater.
Despite activist claims to the contrary, well integrity diagnostics for the natural gas wells on both the Hollenbeck and DePue well pads reveal good well integrity and no mechanism for gas migration from any of the wellbores.
- WPX conducted 56 different tests to evaluate the integrity of the drilling, casing, and cementing of the wellbores at their two closest well pads….one is more than 4,000 feet away from Franklin Forks and the other is more than 7,000 feet away.
- During the course of the investigation, WPX conducted field screening of water from indoor faucets for dissolved phase methane from the Manning and other residences. None of the residences contained any concentration of methane in the ambient air.
This alleged contamination was covered by various media outlets. On a national level, Bloomberg News has written about the Mannings’ role in the “fracking debate,” and the Associated Press wrote a story following a recent tour of the area by Yoko Ono. More locally, we’ve seen coverage in the Scranton Times Tribune, the Times Leader and many other outlets in northeastern and north-central Pennsylvania, as well as in upstate New York. Most, if not all of these, will hopefully complete a follow-up story informing readers of the final findings. A few already have, including Bloomberg, the Washington Times, the Scranton Times Tribune and WBNG.
Of course, last Friday local professional activists brought a group of New York senators on a tour of the area, which included a stop in Franklin Township. Will those activists — because they’re interested in the truth, right? Right? — follow up with these elected officials and inform them of DEP’s final findings? Will they send letters to each of the New York municipalities, where the Mannings and their activist friends have visited to make sweeping claims of contamination — all conveniently before DEP’s final investigation? Will they admit WPX (and EID) were correct from the beginning?
Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: the water wells in question in Franklin Township contain methane consistent with historic methane, which has been documented in the area since the 1800s. Natural gas development is continuing to benefit the region, and it should be reassuring for everyone involved that such development is not having the deleterious impact that some have unfortunately claimed.