Southboro company still finding ‘fugitive methane’ near Pa. shale wells

Southboro company still finding ‘fugitive methane’ near Pa. shale wells by Michael Rubinkam, September 8, 2012, Associated Press
Pennsylvania’s environmental chief asserted two months ago that a faulty gas well that spiked nearby drinking-water wells with high levels of methane had been patched, and “the situation is for the most part over.” But a report commissioned by an anti-drilling group concludes that methane migration continues to be a problem in Leroy Township, Bradford County – with no end in sight.

Gas Safety Inc., a Southboro, Mass., company that provides gas leak detection to homeowners and industry, said in a report released to The Associated Press that it found pockets of nearly pure methane a few inches below the soil surface, and detected a large plume of gas in the air. The report concludes that “fugitive methane” from one or more Marcellus Shale gas wells may be entering faults and fractures deep underground, migrating to the surface, and contaminating residential drinking-water wells. An official with Chesapeake Energy Corp, the driller at the center of the Leroy Township case, said baseline testing conducted before the gas wells were drilled revealed methane already was in the water. Environmental Secretary Michael Krancer blamed equipment failure at a Chesapeake gas well for leaking methane into residential water wells and nearby wetlands on May 19. In a July 12 letter to the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council – which had commissioned an earlier methane survey by Gas Safety – Krancer said Chesapeake’s repair work had been successful, resulting in a “substantial decrease” in methane levels in the water wells and wetlands.

Among the findings: Methane concentrations as high as 94 percent just below the soil surface; an airborne methane plume covering about 1.6 square miles; and bubbling in Towanda Creek. Environmental scientist Bryce Payne, who co-authored the Gas Safety report, told the AP that gas drilling in the region is almost certainly responsible for the methane that he and other researchers detected during their July 25 visit, though his research was not intended to trace the gas back to a specific well. … Chesapeake spokesman Michael Kehs said Friday that “the incident has been successfully addressed and the current situation is temporary. … The surface expressions of methane have dramatically abated and are almost gone.”

The Gas Safety report noted an elevated methane level in the air of one of the homes it tested, despite open doors and windows and the presence of a methane treatment system in the basement, “which suggests methane levels may rise further when cool weather returns, doors and windows are closed, and heating systems activated.”

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