Eastern Montana Attorney Notes Findings Of Methane Study

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 well contamination.

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.

Research Methodology

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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