Appalachian Basin

DEP Confirms Data “Completely Refute” Duke Methane Study

A number of interesting things coming out of API’s workshop on fracturing technology in Pittsburgh this week, but one storyline that appears to be getting some pick-up by the press involves a couple of things that were mentioned during the panel discussion of state regulators convened on Wednesday afternoon.

As you can see from the event itinerary here, the panel featured senior oil and gas regulators from Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Pennsylvania — several of the states leading the way when it comes to the responsible development of shale. By all accounts, Lynn Helms of N.D.’s Dept. of Mineral Resources took home the prize for funniest presentation of the day — taking a shot or two at rival  South Dakota while he had the mic (in jest, of course), but ultimately conceding that “the nights are pretty quiet” up there where he calls home (likely not in jest). Larry Bengal of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission also caught folks’ attention, stating quite clearly that “hydraulic fracturing had nothing at all to do” with the minor seismicity issues that have been getting lots of ink in the papers (he also took some time to walk the crowd through Arkansas’s new disclosure database, which you can check out here).

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of what Mr. Bengal has to say made it into the papers — but comments from Scott Perry of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) did.  Mr. Perry was asked to comment on the issue of shallow methane in northeast Pennsylvania, a condition that’s been in place in our corner of the state since time immemorial. And when the opportunity arose, Mr. Perry used the occasion to directly comment on the study issued earlier this year by Duke, which sought to make the case that water wells within the vicinity of natural gas wells were more likely to contain higher levels of methane.

Here’s how E&E News, a well-respected, DC-based energy trade publication that shares content with The New York Times, reported Perry’s comments in a story posted on Wednesday:

“We’ve collected enough data to completely refute the Duke study …  We have a large sample set. It really shows there’s no correlation.”

Here’s where you have to tip your cap to E&E News — because the reporter here didn’t just stop with Perry’s comments; he actually found a way to reach out to (and get a response from) Duke Univ. researcher Rob Jackson on the fly:

“When Scott Perry says they have enough data to refute our study, what does that mean? Does it mean that the high methane concentrations we found were imaginary?”

No Prof. Jackson, that’s not what it means.  It means your study failed to ask critical questions about why sources of thermogenic gas were found in water wells nowhere near natural gas wellsites. And it means that the findings of your study may be a bit skewed because your team cherry-picked the sample universe, over-sampling wells from Susquehanna Co. well-known to have methane issues, while not including any samples at all from “non-active” wells in the Lockhaven formation.

Jackson, for his part, said in that same article that he’s interested in getting his hands on any data that DEP may have, and “learn[ing] as much as I can from it.”  That’s a heartening development — and one we hope will help inform the professor’s work on this issue moving forward.


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