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Penn State Researchers Identify Methane Contamination Caused By Fracking

Josh Woda helped lead the study into methane contamination linked to fracking.
Maddie Biertempfel
Josh Woda helped lead the study into methane contamination linked to fracking.

Nobody wants methane in their water.

“They saw when it gets to about 28 milligrams per liter, it could start degassing to a point where it could explode,” Josh Woda said.

In Lycoming county, Woda and other Penn State researchers found levels of methane much higher than that in a recent study into the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling.

But, because some methane can occur in water naturally, it’s been hard to say if its presence is a result of a natural process, or hydraulic fracturing – until Woda’s study.

The study found chemical clues in water near gas wells that were known to have had leaks. These chemicals distinguished the methane released during fracking from the methane occurring naturally in water.

Additionally, Woda says the unique geography of Lycoming County -- the way the rocks are folded and fractured -- may make it more susceptible to methane migration.

“For some of these water wells, we saw a marked increase in methane and ethane after these gas wells were drilled, and actually at really, really high concentrations,” Woda said.

However, Woda says there isn’t reason to believe this kind of contamination is widespread when it comes to Pennsylvania fracking.

“Most of the scientific studies have found – and we haven’t seen anything to disprove that —  is that these kinds of incidents are sort of rare and isolated events,” Woda said.

When there is methane contamination, there’s now a way to find out if it’s newly leaked, or naturally occurring.

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