Methane found in Pennsylvania well water deemed safe by EPA

Hydraulic fracturing site in Germany Hydraulic fracturing site in Germany

March 30 (Bloomberg) -- Tests by the Environmental Protection Agency of water in Dimock, Pennsylvania, found elevated levels of methane consistent with leakage from gas drilling nearby, according to scientists who reviewed the data.

Results from the first 11 wells tested by the EPA found one with a methane level of 52 parts per million, which could be explosive, and a total of six with more than the 7 milligrams per liter at which drillers are required to notify the state. The findings raise questions about the EPA’s March 15 statement to Dimock residents that their water didn’t pose a health risk, said Ronald Bishop, a chemist at the State University of New York’s College at Oneonta.

“They sprang too early with these results, and in telling people their water is safe,” Bishop, a critic of gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, said in an interview. “I’m used to seeing better from them.”

Dimock, where actor Mark Ruffalo delivered water to residents late last year, is one of the most closely watched communities where residents say their water has been harmed by the nearby drilling of Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. In fracking, water, sand and chemicals are injected into deep shale formations to free natural gas trapped in the rock.

Explosive Methane

Methane, the key constituent of natural gas, and fracking gained prominence after a scene in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland” in which a resident near a gas-drilling site ignited the water coming out of a tap. A report by the Colorado state oil and gas commission said it was unlikely the gas came from drilling.

A build-up of methane poses a risk of explosion, although the EPA says it’s not unsafe to drink in water. One Dimock resident has said her water well exploded. Craig Sautner, a Dimock resident leading efforts against Cabot, has said he recorded a video showing gas from his well captured in a milk jug that he then lit on fire in his garage.

Two other scientists who have done their own research in the Dimock area say elevated levels of methane reported in the EPA analyses is a sign that natural gas from the Marcellus Shale is somehow migrating to the surface water table.

“These early results resemble what we found across the region -- more methane and dissolved gases in the water but little evidence of deep salts or fracking fluids,” Rob Jackson, a professor of biology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, said in an interview.

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