Posted Sunday, August 7, 2011 ; 11:05 PM
Updated Monday, August 8, 2011; 09:26 AM

Gas producer data shows that West Virginia drinking-water wells can contain unharmful background levels of dissolved methane.

By Pam Kasey
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Chesapeake Energy–funded laboratory tests find dissolved methane in about 11 percent of northern panhandle drinking-water wells before drilling for gas in the Marcellus shale ever begins.

Two wells of 1,312 tested in Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties turned up with potentially dangerous levels of methane.

Chesapeake released its data to the State Journal as follow-up to a May study that showed methane contamination of drinking-water wells in northeast Pennsylvania and nearby New York state. Methane concentrations in the study were higher nearer active shale gas wells, with some concentrations at dangerous levels, and the methane bore a chemical signature that resembles gas from the Marcellus depths.

That study, conducted by researchers at Duke University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recommended research into the potential health effects of methane in drinking water.

Although the industry disputed the study, its arguments do not address the study’s central findings.

Methane in W.Va. Water

The state Department of Environmental Protection requires oil and gas operators to test the drinking-water well of any landowner or resident within a 1,000-foot radius of a proposed gas well who requests testing. If there are no requests, the operator has to sample a well or spring within 1,000 feet or, if none, within 2,000 feet of the proposed well.

Chesapeake offers free water quality testing to anyone within a 2,500-foot radius, according to spokeswoman Maribeth Anderson.

Hired consultants collect the water samples and send them to third-party laboratories for analysis, Anderson said.

For residents whose results come back with dissolved methane above 0.026 milligrams per liter, or mg/L, Chesapeake mails literature from the Environmental Protection Agency and other third parties and directs them to sources of more information.

For those whose results are above 20 mg/L, a Chesapeake employee or a consultant hand delivers the results and the company offers to vent the well free of charge. The federal Department of the Interior recommends hazard mitigation above 10 mg/L and has determined that dissolved methane is a hazard at 28 mg/L.

Of the 1,312 West Virginia water wells Chesapeake sampled, it detected methane in 11.1 percent: 11 percent in Brooke, 17 percent in Marshall, 8 percent in Ohio and 18 percent in Wetzel county. In Bradford County in northeast Pennsylvania, about 25 percent of wells have methane, Anderson said.

The two West Virginia drinking-water wells that topped the 20 mg/L threshold were in Ohio and Marshall counties. One, Anderson said, was determined by chemical analysis to be from shallow coalbed methane; she did not explain the other.

Duke Data Revisited

The 60 drinking-water wells the Duke researchers tested across northeast Pennsylvania and nearby in New York state were not pre-drilling, but categorized rather by distance from active shale gas wells.

The researchers found dissolved methane in 51 of the 60 wells sampled: 85 percent.

Methane concentrations were 17 times higher on average in drinking-water wells that had active shale wells within a 3,000-foot radius than in those without; 12 came in above the 20 mg/L threshold Chesapeake uses for warning residents and nine had concentrations of methane above the federal 28 mg/L hazard level.

Importantly, the dissolved methane was chemically consistent with gas found in deep reservoirs such as the Marcellus and Utica shales.

Industry representatives countered the study at the time.

They argued, in part, that the study did not include samples taken from the water wells before gas well drilling took place.

The Duke researchers acknowledged that criticism and said they would be releasing a before and after study later.

Many drinking-water aquifers hold dissolved methane before Marcellus activity begins, the industry argued.

That point is illustrated by Chesapeake’s northern panhandle data — but it doesn’t address the Duke researchers’ hypotheses about the source and pathway of the gas they found.

Still an Open Question

The Duke researchers hypothesized that the likeliest pathway of the shale gas methane in drinking-water wells near active shale gas wells was leaking well casings, although they felt it was possible that hydraulic fracturing aggravated existing seismic fractures and allowed methane to travel up through rock.

Chesapeake agreed through Anderson that a well that is not properly sealed can be a conduit for the migration of methane, but said that proper well construction practices, maintenance and regulatory oversight in modern gas production have limited the potential for this to occur.

The company contributed other ideas.

Methane might migrate naturally, for example.

“This natural migration of methane has been documented by academic institutions and government agencies over many years in areas with and without drilling activity,” Anderson’s e-mail response read. Industrial activities besides gas drilling could cause migration, including mining, landfills, construction and drilling of water wells, her response continued.

And environmental variables could affect gas migration, too, it said: changes in atmospheric air pressure and in aquifer levels due to natural cycles of flood and drought.

“A tremendous amount of engineering, planning and design work goes into the development of any natural gas well, the design and construction of which is formulated to be specific to the subsurface geology of the area and conditions encountered and data collected and analyzed as a well is drilled,” Anderson’s e-mail read.

“As the most active driller of wells in the United States with over 11,500 wells drilled in the past twenty years, Chesapeake utilizes its vast experience and the best modern technology to design and construct its wells,” it said.

This commentary could just as easily be gas rigs instead of oil rigs. The overall issues are the same as are the real opportunity losses to NYS. JLCpulse

Guest Commentary: Erecting barriers instead of oil rigs?

By Mark D. Cutright
Posted: 08/07/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT  Denver Post .com

Growing up in Colorado, it seems that everyone followed the Code of the West — everyone's opinion was respected and people tried to be good neighbors. Our laws were based on common sense and were written to facilitate getting things done rather than erecting barriers.

Colorado was born from a foundation of mineral extraction and is recognized worldwide as a place of beauty with our majestic mountains, abundant wildlife and pure streams.

I was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007, as someone who had substantial oil and gas industry experience, to serve on the newly reformatted Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

The commission undertook a rulemaking involving 20-plus days of hearings and 25,000 pages of documentation. The new rules were issued in April 2009. The previous administration initially proposed a set of rules that were punitive rather than realistic in solving problems. The page count on the new rules doubled from the previous version. Of the 100 or so individual votes on the rule changes, I unsuccessfully voted against 22 of them because they were overreaching, they created undue bureaucratic burdens, or they added no value to the process.

I have requested, many times, a cost-benefit evaluation of the rules but have been unable to garner any support. A lot of my opinions were contentious, but I have required accountability not only from industry but from the commission as well.

Many articles have been written about the impacts due to oil and gas extraction as well as the impacts to the industry from new rules that the COGCC established. The rig count in Colorado peaked at 128 in September of 2008. It now stands at at 68 rigs. Most notably, the rig count in Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties went from 104 rigs to a current count of 32.

The economic recession impacted the oil and gas business, but overall in the U.S, it has recovered to pre-recession levels with the exception of three states and offshore. Only Mississippi, Alaska and U.S. offshore areas had a smaller recovery in rig count than Colorado.

What does a lower rig count mean to the economy of Colorado? On average, a running rig represents an investment of about $60 million per year, so Colorado's loss of 58 rigs means that the state is losing annual investments of $3.48 billion. Additionally, the state is losing substantial severance and property tax income because of lost production that the additional 1,500 wells the 58 rigs would have drilled every year. Mineral owners also are not receiving their share of the revenue from these wells. An operating rig represents anywhere from 50 to 100 jobs per rig, so Colorado has lost 2,900 to 5,800 jobs to other states.

Recently, there seems to be a continuous stream of press reports about impacts of oil and gas development, and hydraulic fracturing specifically. The environmental community invokes fear by using terms to describe fracking like "toxic," "known carcinogens," "radionuclides," "endocrine disruptors" and "unknown wastes." And reports imply the oil and gas industry is "unregulated." But the truth is the fracking process is highly regulated and is no different than any other industrial or manufacturing process — it is highly engineered and is supervised on many levels.

It is undeniable that there have been localized impacts due to spills, equipment failures, and poor operating practices, but due to state and federal laws, companies are fined and made to remediate the impacts. Companies are held responsible for damages. There is accountability.

Challenges that face the newly appointed oil and gas commission include the ever-increasing conflict of wells and development encroaching on each other. New technology is opening up areas to oil and gas development. Engineers are continually refining and developing new applications for technology, opening up new areas for development and revitalizing older fields.

With the resurgence of interest in the Niobrara formation, we are on the verge of an oil boom in Colorado. I hope we are able to capitalize on it with industry and government working together to solve the issues.

We can, once again, follow the Code of the West.

Mark D. Cutright is an outgoing member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The Frack debate is far more than a local discussion, and the falsehoods are spreading like a virus. As you read the following article you will understand a bit more about the international nature of the quest for clean safe energy. JLCpulse

Last updated 08:24 08/08/2011  The Press.Co New Zealand

Don't believe fracking scare stories


NO TO FRACKING: People gather on the steps of New York City Hall in January last year to protest against the threat to the city's drinking water of plans to drill for shale oil in the city's watershed using fracking.

BERNIE NAPP makes a plea for reason over fracking - hydraulic fracturing to open up fissures in rock and increase the flow of gas.

The New Zealand gas industry is facing a medieval witch hunt over fracking. Perhaps, we are at fault.

We believe fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a tried and reasonable technology, after 40 years of experience in New Zealand without incident, using our methods, and under our laws. But we haven't come out and said so in these words. Now it is clear a lot of people do not agree. They have concluded, on their reading of the available evidence, that fracking creates risks of earthquakes, water and air pollution, and to human health.

I would like to address these concerns.

To recap, fracking is the pumping of mainly water and sand through a well into deeply buried gas-bearing rock, to open up fissures in the rock, and increase the flow of gas. Two per cent of the fluid is chemical additives to make the process work. At the end of the process, some of the fracking fluids return to the surface, which then have to be disposed of.

Let's start with earthquake risk, a matter close to the hearts of Cantabrians. The concern stems from a report prepared for the European Parliament in June this year about fracking in the United States, where the technology appears to have gone badly wrong. Let's look at the evidence.

The reference for an earthquake in Blackpool, England, is a newspaper article, and that for earthquakes in the Fort Worth area is unpublished, making these difficult to assess at this distance. A $60 million project in Switzerland that is sometimes referred to has to do with geothermal energy, not fracking.

There is a Russian paper which says, with no evidence, that in 1963 the filling of a hydro dam in India caused a magnitude 7 earthquake nearby. The paper does say hydros and oil and gas wells can change the state of stress of rocks underground and that small earthquakes can result. This is interesting, and may be relevant for Arkansas.

The Arkansas reference is the local geological survey which has been recording earthquakes in that area for more than 100 years, including swarms of earthquakes that occurred before fracking in the area started. The current swarm may or may not be connected with fracking.

It is conceivable that a change in the state of stress of rock could lead to low-level shock waves that would be picked up by a seismic detector. I suppose you could call that an "earthquake". But this is nothing like the massive forces of nature at depth, which, when unleashed, cause earthquakes of the sort suffered in Christchurch.

By all means let's consider seismicity when carrying out fracking operations, but let's not get the matter out of all proportion.

Turning now to the issue of environmental contamination.

A US documentary, Gasland, which has been doing the rounds in New Zealand, presented spectacular scenes of residents setting fire to their tapwater. The allegation was that fracking is the cause. The reality is more complex, however.


Official investigations in Colorado and Pennsylvania have shown that affected water bores had been drilled through shallow coal seams and that the lining of the bores had corroded. As a result, thermogenic methane migrated from the coal into the drinking water. This has nothing to do with fracking.

Having looked at the US material, it appears there are justifiable concerns over air quality at places.

New Zealanders need have no concern on that score because we do not use the volatile, toxic chemicals that have been used in the US, and we have different methods for disposing of waste fracking fluids.

Just to make it absolutely clear, the toxic BTEX chemicals, which include benzene and toluene, are not used in fracking in New Zealand.

In our country, in the concentrations used, fracking fluid is non-toxic to humans, but that's not an invitation to drink it, any more than you would drink dishwater.

I labour the point because it can seem paradoxical that a chemical that is toxic in high concentrations can still be used safely in the right circumstances.

For example, swimming pools contain toxic chemicals yet people safely swim in them, and sleeping pills can definitely kill a human but are fine if used safely. Ditto for alcohol.

Fracking operations occur deep below the water table. The possibility of fracking fluids getting into the drinking water is extremely remote. Certainly, it has not occurred in New Zealand.

To consider now the disposal of waste fracking fluids. There are various ways of doing this, for example, reinjection back into a disused well, deep below the water table. But the methods do not include forced evaporation of volatile chemicals from ponds, or dumping into waterways, as portrayed in the US documentary.

In summary, we believe we have the technology, the laws and regulations, and the geological conditions to carry out fracking safely in New Zealand. We would only pursue this technology if it was reasonable to do so.

We have our reputations and the future of our businesses to consider for a start. We also have families, and wish to live in a sustainable and prosperous New Zealand.

Our plea to New Zealanders with an interest in fracking is this: please get adequately informed.

This is a complex issue. It's not just a matter of reading a couple of reports and reaching a quick conclusion. Fracking calls for careful deliberation.

We have the ability to debate issues in a mature and informed way. That would be in everyone's interests. That would be democracy in the 21st century.

I really like that nuclear energy is being pressed hard by natural gas as a safer generator of electricity. I wonder when the obstructionists will wake up to the direction this country is taking. We always have to consider alternatives, there is no ideal solution, just the the best among many. What we cannot afford to do is make no choices. It would be nice if they spent more dollars on natural gas as a transition vehicle to safer lower environmental impact alternatives. JLCpulse

August 9, 2011, 7:50 am

Researching Safer Nuclear Energy

The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township, N.J., where some nuclear waste is stored in dry casks. A federal grant will pay for research on how the canisters hold up in salty air.The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township, N.J., where some nuclear waste is stored in dry casks. A federal grant will pay for research on how such canisters hold up in salty air.
Green: Science

The nuclear power industry faces hard times, with tough competition from natural gas for meeting new electricity needs and a prevailing nervousness about nuclear safety after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in March. On Tuesday, the Energy Department, handing out research grants in all kinds of energy fields that are low in carbon dioxide emissions, is announcing that it will give $39 million to university programs around the country to try to solve various nuclear problems.

The money will go to a variety of projects at 31 universities in 20 states. Several focus on nuclear waste.

Two researchers at Clemson University, for example, will get $1 million to study the behavior of particles of nuclear waste when buried in clay in metal canisters that have rusted. One open question, according to the researchers, is how a high temperature, which would be generated by the waste itself, affects the interactions. These are important to understanding how the waste would spread over time. The goal is to “reduce uncertainty” about the life expectancy of atomic particles.

With the cancellation of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, many nuclear operators are loading older fuel into sealed metal casks filled with inert gas. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will get a grant to study how such “dry casks” perform in salt environments.

“Storage casks will be stored mostly in coastal or lakeside regions where a salt air environment exists,’’ a summary of the grant says. Cracking related to corrosion could occur in 30 years or less, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is studying whether the casks can be used for 100 years as some hope.

Another important concern in the nuclear power field is the aging of reactors. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University will get $456,000 to plan a system that will use ultrasonic waves to look for cracks and other defects in hot metal parts. The idea is to find “microscale” defects that lead to big cracks.

Some of the work is aimed at helping to improve new reactors. For example, a researcher at the University of Houston, with collaborators at two other universities, will study a “base isolation system” that would protect reactors against earthquakes.

In an earthquake, the ground moves back and forth at a certain frequency, similar to the way a gong struck by a mallet vibrates at a given frequency. But plants could be built atop materials with “frequency band gaps,” that do not vibrate at the frequency that is characteristic of earthquakes, the Energy Department suggests.

In a statement, Steven Chu, the energy secretary, said that nuclear energy had an important role to play in a low-carbon energy future and that the grants would help the country “maintain global leadership in the field.”

Aug 5 (Reuters) - A key natural gas pipeline which crosses southern New York state is in danger of rupturing and could pose a safety threat, according to a recent report from regulators.

An investigation by the New York State Department of Public Service into a leak on the Millennium Pipeline in January found that uninspected faulty welds were responsible for the accident.

Now the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is conducting its own investigation along a large stretch of the pipe between Corning and Ramapo, concerned that similar problems are likely to occur at other points on the line.

"It appears that the continued operation of the affected pipeline without corrective measures would pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property, or the environment," the PHMSA said in a letter to the pipeline operator, Columbia Gas Transmission, on July 6.

A spokeswoman for Millennium was not immediately available for comment. The company had thirty days to respond to the PHMSA.

PHMSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, requested that Millennium operate the pipeline at a reduced pressure last month, and the reduction remains in place until further notice, according to the Millennium website.

The Millennium Pipeline is a 182-mile system extending from Independence in Steuben County, New York to Buena Vista in Rockland County, New York. It can deliver up to 525 dekatherms (525 million cubic feet) per day of supply.

Millennium is jointly owned by NiSource Inc (NI.N) business unit NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage, and affiliates of National Grid (NG.L) and DTE Energy (DTE.N). (Reporting by Edward McAllister and Eileen Moustakis; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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