Appalachian Basin

USGS Finds Methane in Pa. Water Unrelated to Drilling

Weeks after the release of a peer-reviewed study that found methane is “ubiquitous” in the groundwater of Susquehanna County, Pa., a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) review shows this phenomenon isn’t limited to just one Pennsylvania county.  In fact, the USGS examination lends further scientific credence to the fact that methane in the Commonwealth’s groundwater is a fairly widespread occurrence – even in areas without any Marcellus Shale gas wells.

The USGS study sampled 20 water wells in Sullivan County in an area that hasn’t seen any shale development. Their results were both alarming and enlightening.  For those unfamiliar, Sullivan County is due south of Bradford County, which is the most heavily drilled county that sits atop the Marcellus Shale.

Specifically, 30 percent of the samples contained detectable levels of methane, and ten percent had levels above one milligram per liter (mg/L). In fact, measurements ranged as high as 51.1 mg/L.  What’s more?  The USGS researchers also conducted isotopic testing on the samples with the highest recorded methane levels, concluding that “the isotopic ratio values fell in the range for thermogenic (natural gas) source.” Such a finding appears to contradict Duke University’s previous research on methane in Pennsylvania groundwater which surmised that methane in groundwater was attributable to Marcellus Shale development. The Duke study alleged that the thermogenic origin of the methane suggested a link to gas wells – and yet the latest USGS findings showed thermogenic methane in pre-drill testing!

The USGS analysis also found the wells registering high levels of methane also had the highest concentrations of arsenic, boron, bromide, chloride, fluoride, lithium, molybendum, and sodium.  If these contaminants sound familiar, they should.  They, in addition to thermogenic methane, have been touted by anti-fracking activists as examples of “contamination” from shale development in nearby Susquehanna and Bradford counties. Is it possible that critics of hydraulic fracturing are peddling phony science?

Nor were those the only contaminants the USGS researchers found.  The testing also uncovered concentrations of gross-alpha radiation and radon-220 that exceeded maximum contaminant levels (MCL) set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One sample tested for gross-alpha radiation at twice the level of EPA’s primary threshold, and 17 of the 20 wells sampled contained levels of radon-220 above EPA’s proposed MCL of 300 pCi/L.

As if methane, radiation and a host of other contaminants weren’t enough, the researchers also found that 20 percent of the samples exceeded EPA’s secondary MCL of 300 ug/L for iron. Manganese concentrations also exceeded EPA’s secondary MCL of 50 ug/L in 35 percent of the samples.

In sum: groundwater in Sullivan County, like so many counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, naturally contains methane, radon and a whole host of contaminants that have nothing do with Marcellus Shale development.

  • Bill Ferullo
    Posted at 02:34h, 25 June Reply

    This is plain BS since I have comments from the PADEP saying a well near me was contaminated by methane .Of course the company says it’s not their’s ,and the DEP is hiding the isotopic testing ….you pro gas advocates have No damn idea of what is really going on .All you know is how to spread the some research on what goes on when drilling and you’ll find how many variables take place and what conditions really are …..

    • Bill
      Posted at 12:32h, 25 June Reply

      You are saying that the USGS report of baseline methane, radon, and other contaminants in areas where there is no drilling is BS?? What proof do you have of this? What company are you referring to? There’s no company listed in either this EID report or in the USGS report because they sampled water in areas with – again – NO DRILLING, so your rant is completely out of context, and does little to enhance your credibility. The USGS is simply doing what you antis are always mewling about – conducting a baseline test in an area with – third time’s the charm – NO DRILLING!!!

      • Bill Ferullo
        Posted at 12:37h, 28 June Reply

        Read my Reply below !!

  • jon sickamore
    Posted at 17:02h, 26 June Reply

    Bill: too bad you are not an open minded person.
    this kinda proves JF AND GL 1 & II a myth as well.

  • Bill Ferullo
    Posted at 12:34h, 28 June Reply

    I am saying that there has and is methane in natural occurence in water in PA.,but in low levels which increase 5 -10 times or more when drilling is near some wells .My credibility doesn’t need to be upheld by a pro gas group like EID .What I have stated is the truth .Not a twisting of words for the benefit of posts like most of EID PR is …To bad you don’t like it but it’s all the straight truth .EID needs to tell about that in there articles !….Yeah right !!

    • Bill
      Posted at 17:59h, 28 June Reply

      So, I am still confused/ You stipulate that there is methane in some wells in PA. So in that regard you agree with the USGS findings. They also find that in some wells there are elevated levels of methane, radon, and other contaminants in areas where no drilling has occured. You present the same information in areas where drilling has occurred. So far there’s nothing to claim BS about. I don’t believe the report claims that every instance of elevated levels is natural and not drilling related. It’s too bad that the wells you refer to didn’t have a baseline water quality test performed before drilling began; that would support your argument that drilling caused the problem. As it is, there are two possibilities: either the high levels were pre-existing, or drilling caused them. In the absence of pre-drilling data, either hypothesis is a possible outcome. All we have is anecdotal evidence (and I don’t mean to belittle the claim) that the cause was drilling. To not admit otherwise on my part would be wrong. That’s what makes this sort of study important. and certainly not BS.

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