Methane Problem Remains Despite Effort near Bradford County Gas
8 September 2012
By The 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 Southborough, 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
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.
“This situation was immediately grasped by the department and DEP
immediately responded,” Krancer wrote. “The situation is, and at
all times was, under control by DEP. Indeed, at this point in time
the situation is for the most part over.”
Two weeks later, Gas Safety returned to Leroy Township for a
second survey, this one commissioned by environmental activist Don
Williams and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, an
anti-drilling group based in the Poconos.
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
“Though the gas is no longer hissing out of the ground, it is
clear that at this point the event and the damage to groundwater
and the domestic wells it supplies is certainly not over, and
there is no foreseeable end in sight,” he said.
DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday on Friday defended the accuracy of
“The volume of gas coming out of the ground has been reduced
substantially,” Sunday said. “As Secretary Krancer pointed out in
his letter, a letter that is still entirely accurate and that we
stand by, we have an active investigation under way to monitor the
situation as it unfolds.”
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.”
Four years into a natural gas-drilling boom in Pennsylvania’s
Marcellus shale rock formation, methane contamination of
drinking-water supplies continues to trouble drillers and
homeowners, though the state has imposed stricter well-casing
standards that are supposed to reduce the incidence of methane
In the Leroy Township case, DEP said methane escaped from the well
while Chesapeake was making repairs. The agency determined that
four homes were affected.
Leroy Township residents Michael and Nancy Leighton knew they had
a problem back in May when water from their well started boiling
over the top.
Chesapeake installed a filtration system that removes methane from
the well, but the Leightons said they still don’t trust it. The
retired couple uses their water to bathe, cook and wash dishes —
but not to drink. And DEP is still finding explosive levels of
methane in the well’s head space, Michael Leighton said.
“When is it going to go away? Nobody knows. They have no idea,
even the scientists who have been up here,” said his wife.
Potentially harmful algae identified at Kinzua Dam
About Rick Wills
Tribune-Review Staff reporter Rick Wills can be reached via e-mail
or at 412-320-7944.
Link to online copy (full tech report):