Appalachian Basin

Science Doesn’t Back the Methane Blame Game

The accusations that shale development has been responsible for flaming faucets have proliferated since the Marcellus Shale became a household name just a few years ago. At the same time, many stories have also been shared of this phenomenon occurring for years in areas rich with methane gas – and long before any natural gas development.

We’ve covered a few of these in the past, like Robert Sandell of Guilford, N.Y., who appeared in Truthland and told everyone, “Don’t smoke in the shower.” Or Allen Coy of Franklin Township, Pa., who described a fire call about a blown up toilet years before the first natural gas rigs moved into the area.

SCountylightwaterIn Susquehanna County, Pa., where activists regularly flock to places like Dimock and Franklin Township, residents even wear shirts with the phrase, “Lighting our water on fire since 1795” – the year it was first recorded that people could light the water at nearby Salt Springs State Park.

In recent years, scientific research has also started to back these stories of family parlor tricks conducted at the kitchen sink. Just this week, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report from New York showing incredibly high levels of methane in water wells in New York—in areas where no natural gas development is occurring.

From the Associated Press:

“The U.S. Geological Survey study found that 15 percent of groundwater samples from 66 household wells across south-central New York contained naturally occurring methane at levels high enough to warrant monitoring or remediation, even though none of the water wells was within a mile of existing or abandoned natural gas wells.” (emphasis added)

The AP added:

“…nearly 30 percent of groundwater samples from valleys tested at or above levels that suggest cause for concern, but none of the samples from upland wells did.”

Recent studies of groundwater in Pennsylvania have made similar conclusions about naturally-occurring methane. Just this summer the USGS conducted a study of Sullivan County, and found:

“…high levels of naturally occurring methane in two of 20 randomly selected private water wells. Five other wells also contained some levels of methane, but the source of the gas was not determined. The water wells are in northeast Pennsylvania’s Sullivan County, not near any currently producing natural gas wells.” (emphasis added)

In a study released earlier this year, researchers sampled and tested 1,700 water wells in Susquehanna County prior to natural gas wells being drilled. From the study:

“The results of the extensive ‘predrill’ water well sampling and background survey show methane to be nearly ubiquitous in water wells in this region, with over 78% of the water wells exhibiting detectable methane concentrations.” (p. 3, emphasis added)

The Marcellus Shale Coalition has also released a video on methane where experts and residents explained the history of this natural phenomenon in the Marcellus Shale region.

More specifically, experts have noted that topography in the region can be a key determinant in whether methane is in groundwater. As the USGS report issued this week noted:

“Nearly 30 percent of groundwater samples from valleys tested at or above the recommended monitoring level — no samples from wells in uplands exceeded that level. Methane in valley groundwater was mostly thermogenic in origin, derived over millions of years by processes deep within the earth that produce fossil fuels.” (emphasis added)

That’s important, especially in the context of activist claims about Franklin Forks, which is itself in a low-lying region of Susquehanna County. State regulators have determined that methane there is not due to drilling, and this research – along with previous studies – appears to explain why. This information also has ramifications for claims made in Dimock, where even some of the individuals involved in the Consent Order have talked about pre-existing methane in their water supplies.

With the long history this region has seen of methane in our water, it makes one wonder where all of these new accusations against industry are coming from. Sure, some may be the result of the increased education and awareness of water tests that residents never felt the need to receive before.

But how many of these claims have been overblown or falsified by activists with an agenda to stop natural gas development in the region? As more studies are coming out, the image of an industry being scapegoated to take the fall for existing problems is unfortunately starting to become clearer. For all of us who live here, the loss of accuracy is a tragedy in its own right.

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