Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marcellus Shale Reality Tour: Part Five

Uploaded by GADCLuzerneCounty on Mar 15, 2012

A video by Scott Cannon

State regulators are investigating the cause of high methane levels in three Susquehanna County water wells after residents reported gray or black sludgy water, and one home's well began to erupt water through its cap.

The Department of Environmental Protection has not yet determined if natural sources, nearby natural gas drilling operations or some other cause has mobilized methane and metals into drinking water supplies. Inspectors were in the township hamlet of Franklin Forks on Wednesday to take a second round of samples from water wells.

DEP officials originally indicated to residents in January that the likely source of the gas was a natural methane seep documented for over a century in nearby Salt Springs State Park.

But the chemical markers of the Salt Springs methane have been well characterized by scientists and the department is just now in the process of determining the signature of the gas found in the water wells to compare to the seep.

Analyzing the stable carbon isotopes - a form of chemical fingerprinting of the gas - "could prove fruitful" in this case because Salt Springs is so well documented, DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said.

The department also is considering the potential impact of nearby Marcellus Shale drilling on the water supplies.

"Everything is still part of the investigation," she said. "We're not ruling anything out."

DEP cited WPX Energy for defective casing or cement in two of the natural gas wells closest to Franklin Forks last year. The nested strings of steel casing and cement are meant to protect aquifers from gas and other fluids in the wells, but flaws in the barriers have caused methane to migrate into water supplies throughout the region, most notably in Bradford County and Dimock Twp. 15 miles south.

DEP inspectors also found gas bubbling from between the casing strings on three more WPX wells on the same two well pads - the DePue and Hollenbeck - although those wells were not cited for violations. Bubbling is often viewed by state regulators as an indication of a leak or defect in a well's construction.

WPX is an exploration and production company recently spun off from Williams Companies.

DEP is evaluating the WPX wells as part of its investigation, but it has not named any responsible party and has not ordered any company to replace or restore the water supplies, Ms. Connolly said.

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