The Duke is Dethroned…Again
Duke University made headlines earlier this year when it released a study that claimed to link methane contamination with nearby nautral gas production. Media outlets practically salivated at the opportunity to cover this “breaking” story . It was supposed to be a researchers claim to fame and an anti-natural gas development activists Holy Grail. The only problem, the data did not support the study’s findings and the research team stretched further than Manute Bol getting out of bed to support this inaccurate conclusion. Energy In Depth was the first to debunk the study now many more are following.
In fact, over the course of the summer mulitple researchers have gone on the record indicating the Duke study does not support its own conclusions. In fact, it supports the opposite. Impossible you say? Only if you value anti-gas rhetoric and media distortion over scientific fact.
Two letters were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that not only call into question the results of the study but also the data set that supports the study’s findings. One letter comes from Tarek Saba and Mark Orzechowski, Civil and Environmental Consultants at Exponent, Inc. an internationally renowned consulting firm with over 90 disciplines and the other from Samuel C. Schon from Brown University’s Department of Geological Sciences. Yes, that Brown University, the one in the Ivy League.
Let’s take a look at what these folks had to say about the bull emanating from Durham beginning with Saba, et al. Let’s start with this little tidbit of critical information about the Duke study. It didn’t make the headlines of course.
However, the Genessee data show that average methane concentrations in nonactive [areas without natural gas production] was 1.5mgl and the only sampled active area [areas with natural gas production] was 0.3mgl.
Yes, you read that correctly. Data from the Duke study showed that the water wells tested in active production areas had less methane than those where there was no natural gas activity. Further, they note:
Note that the highest methane concentration reported by Osborn et al. has a carbon isotope different from the extraction operations gas.
This confirms that thermogenic methane unrelated to current gas extraction operations is most likely present in Lockhaven wells and must be considered before concluding a source.
Now let’s examine what researchers at Brown University found when they conducted a thorough review of the report put forward by researchers at Duke.
Their report [Duke] does not fully appreciate the geologic history of this region and misrepresents potential risks of modern drilling and completion techniques used to develop shale gas resources.
Knowledge of significant methane as a natural constituent of groundwater in this region long predates the recent development of shale gas resources.
In close proximity to natural gas wells, many water samples showed low concentrations of methane. This shows that elevated methane concentrations are not an inevitable effect of drilling.
The data presented simply do not support the interpretation put forth that shale-gas development is leading to methane migration from the Marcellus into shallow groundwater.