Reports of methane in drinking water have come out of the Bakken formation
in eastern Montana, North Dakota and southern Canada. The same issue has
been noted in the shale oil of Texas and Pennsylvania. Now, a study suggests
that faulty wells rather than fracking may be the issue.
The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences and noted by
BBC News. The findings may concentrate potential liability claims on faulty wells
themselves. The research points away from fracking as a cause of water
During the course of the study, researchers examined the presence of methane
gas in 130 water wells in the states of Texas and Pennsylvania. Previously,
there was a common view that methane released during fracking was finding
its way into the water supplies of various residences. The study succeeded
in tracing such methane to compromised casings and linings of gas wells.
Twenty wells drilled into the Barnett shale formation in Texas and another
113 wells drilled in the Marcellus shale of Pennsylvania were analyzed.
The researchers used inert gases to track the pathways taken by the methane
from the gas wells to the water wells. The inert gases were selected because
they do not deteriorate due to oxidation, and they are not impacted by
microbes. By assessing ratios of methane to these inert gases, researchers
were able to calculate the distance that the methane had travelled. Within
the 133 wells studied, the study's authors identified eight clusters
of problem wells.
Well Integrity Issues Cited
Stanford University Prof. Robert Jackson, one of the researchers, asserted
that, "The mechanism of contamination looks to be well integrity."
Jackson went on to suggest specific causes of compromised well integrity.
Poor cementing was the issue in about half of the problem wells, and leaky
casings were the problem the other half of the time.
Cement is ordinarily employed to fill the gap between a well casing and
sides of the hole that was originally drilled. The study of the 133 wells
did not identify fracking as the cause of methane migration in any instance.
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