More Than Three Months Later, Methane Gas Is Still Leaking In Bradford County

More Than Three Months Later, Methane Gas Is Still Leaking In Bradford County by Scott Detrow, August 28, 2012, NPR State Impact
Ear­lier this month, Mike and Nancy Leighton received a cer­ti­fied let­ter from Pennsylvania’s Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Protection. The Leightons are the Leroy Town­ship, Brad­ford County cou­ple who have been deal­ing with methane gas leak­ing into their water well, base­ment and prop­erty since mid-May. The let­ter told them what they already knew: “the Department’s inves­ti­ga­tion indi­cates that gas well drilling has impacted your supply.” The Leightons live about a half-mile from Chesa­peake Energy’s Morse well pad, which state reg­u­la­tors sus­pect began leak­ing methane May 19, when pres­sure forced nat­ural gas through per­fo­ra­tions in the well’s pipes dur­ing a repair job aimed at replac­ing a faulty piece of equip­ment. Since then, mys­te­ri­ous flam­ma­ble pud­dles of gas have been bub­bling up through­out the Leightons’ prop­erty, and methane has been seep­ing into their water well. The gas has trav­eled from the Chesa­peake well to the sur­face through a process called methane migra­tion. It hap­pens nat­u­rally, but drilling oper­a­tions — espe­cially wells with faulty cement or steel pip­ing — can speed up the process, and pro­vide an ele­va­tor of sorts for methane gas to rise to the sur­face and into people’s water wells. In the Leightons’ case, state inspec­tors found 82.7 mg/L of methane in their water well. “…The level of con­cern begins above 28 mh/L methane, which is referred to as the sat­u­ra­tion level,” the Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion let­ter stated. It continued: At this level, under nor­mal atmos­pheric pres­sure, the water can­not hold addi­tional methane in solu­tion. This may allow the gas to come out of the water and con­cen­trate in the air space of your home or build­ing. There is a phys­i­cal dan­ger of fire or explo­sion due to the migra­tion of nat­ural gas into water wells or through soils into dwellings where it could be ignited by sources that are present in most homes/buildings.

…It is the department’s rec­om­men­da­tion that all water wells should be equipped with a work­ing vent. This will help alle­vi­ate the pos­si­bil­ity of con­cen­trat­ing these gasses in areas where igni­tion would post a threat to life or prop­erty. Please note that it is not pos­si­ble to com­pletely elim­i­nate the haz­ards of hav­ing nat­ural gas in your water sup­ply by sim­ply vent­ing your well.

Tap Water Torches: How Faulty Gas Drilling Can Lead To Methane Migration

Chesa­peake has been pay­ing for air and water ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems since the gas leaks began, but Nancy Leighton said the let­ter – espe­cially that part about it not being pos­si­ble to “com­pletely elim­i­nate the haz­ards” – left her feel­ing “a lit­tle ner­vous,” as she put it. “We heat our house with wood, by the way,” Mike added.

Both fam­i­lies say methane lev­els have grad­u­ally decreased since state reg­u­la­tors tested their water. But the bub­bling methane pud­dles –the pud­dles Mike Leighton set fire to ear­lier this sum­mer – are still on their prop­er­ties. Both fam­i­lies worry what would hap­pen if a fire started near the methane expres­sions. “It would be like out west,” Mike wor­ries, ref­er­enc­ing this year’s spate of wildfires. The Leroy Town­ship methane leaks come more than a year after Penn­syl­va­nia updated its well cas­ing reg­u­la­tions. The state put stricter cement and pip­ing stan­dards in place, with the goal of cut­ting back on methane gas leak­ing out of drilling path­ways and into people’s water supplies. … A Chesa­peake state­ment pro­vided to StateIm­pact Penn­syl­va­nia states the mal­func­tion cre­at­ing the leak “has been iden­ti­fied and cor­rected. The sur­face expres­sions of methane have dra­mat­i­cally abated and are almost gone.” “We regret any incon­ve­nience this inci­dent might have caused and we are work­ing with res­i­dents to address any out­stand­ing con­cerns,” the state­ment con­tin­ues. “Chesa­peake is con­fi­dent that affected water wells will sta­bi­lize back to nor­mal con­di­tions – which, in some cases, included pre­ex­ist­ing methane, as noted dur­ing pre-drill water-quality testing.”

… Still, it only takes one small hole, or one faulty piece of equip­ment, or one weak chunk of cement, to cre­ate prob­lems on the surface. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to 16×9 : Untested Science: Fracking natural gas controversy ]

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