Methane Water Contamination Investigation Underway

Environmental protection officials are investigating possible methane contamination of drinking water near natural gas drilling sites on the Marcellus Shale. (image: publiusfoundation.com)

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is investigating possible methane contamination of drinking water near Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania, thetimes-tribune.com reports.

Department officials say a bubbling pond was found to contain “combustible gas” in Lenox, Susquehanna County. Two natural gas well pads operated by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp are near the area under investigation for potential stray methane gas. They are also in the vicinity of the Mountain View School District campus.

However the department says methane has not been detected in the school buildings or two wells that provide the district’s drinking water, spokesman Daniel Spadoni said. The stray methane gas has not yet been linked to Marcellus Shale drilling in Lenox.

“No determination has been made at this time regarding the source or the sources of the methane,” Spadoni said. “The investigating is ongoing.”

Natural gas and propane production is experiencing a boom in the US, largely thanks to extensive shale gas reserves discovered under large tracts of the country, including Pensilvania and Texas.

There has also been a huge increase in the controversial extraction method hydraulic fracturing, which pumps water, sand and chemicals into the earth to fracture shale rock and free trapped gas and oil reserves.

Fracking has boosted supply of domestically-sourced gas energy reserves, reducing America’s reliance on expensive foreign oil. However, “fracking” chemicals have been linked to water contamination and air pollution. France has banned the practice and there are calls for greater regulation to protect the environment and human health.

The department has identified three drinking water wells at homes in Lenox affected by possible methane gas migration.

“We are working closely with DEP personnel on this matter,” Cabot spokesman George Stark said. “Together we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of the area. We are aggressively partnering with DEP personnel to understand the cause and source of the stray methane.”

Methane is a colorless, odorless gas and the primary constituent of natural gas. In high concentrations it can combust. It is not known to be harmful if ingested.

The company was criticised after a private water well just west of Lenox where Cabot was drilling, exploded in 2009, seemingly due to a build-up of methane, the DEP has said. DEP officials stopped Cabot’s operations in the area last year after saying it found methane linked to faulty Cabot wells seeping into 18 drinking water supplies. Cabot has denied it is responsible for the methane seep.

Houston-based Cabot has implemented methane alarms in the three homes served by the wells and vented the wells in a bid to prevent methane from accumulating.

“We have employees out gathering samples and collecting data,” Mr. Stark said. “Our primary focus is to ensure the safety of the residents.”

The gas industry has argued that pockets of naturally-occurring methane can infiltrate water supplies with or without the presence of natural gas drilling.

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