Monday, April 9, 2012

The Dimock Water Wars & EPA April 6 Water Tests

"The first casualty of war is the truth," so it is famously said.

The Dimock water wars continued on friday, when EPA said the water test results at 20 more homes in Dimock had no contaminants at levels that presented health concerns, according to an EPA spokesman.  http://articles.philly.com/2012-04-06/business/31300424_1_gas-drilling-roy-seneca-epa.  Also see the actual test results in over 300 pages at: www.epaosc.org/sites/7555/files/Dimock%20Week%201%20and%202.pdf.
The April 6, EPA test results were consistent with the March EPA testing at 11 homes and that done by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection since 2009.

Any hope that the EPA test results would create a ceasefire in the Dimock water wars seems fades, as the combatants rush to declare victory.  Those seeking to shutdown the industry distort the results and falsely insist that they show that hydraulic fracturing caused frack fluids to contaminate water wells, while some industry supporters also falsely say the results prove that gas drilling had no impact of any sort on any water well in Dimock.

Neither position is true and battling combatants should destroy their credibility, when they insist on their false narratives. After years of testing, what can be said about the impact of hydraulic fracturing, as distinguished from the drilling, casing, and cementing of gas wells, on the water quality of water wells in Dimock?

Hydraulic fracturing did not contaminate anyone's water supply at Dimock.  All tests show that, including the latest EPA results that the water does not have contaminants in it that are above health levels.  Overwhelming evidence supports this conclusion, such as the low levels of chloride documented by EPA in the water.

But that is not all that must be said.

Unsafe levels of methane (which is not toxic and which, therefore, is not a health contaminant) in some water wells were documented since 2009, and comprehensive testing and other investigative actions done by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection documented that mistakes in the gas drilling phase caused gas to migrate to 18 water wells.  The gas in 18 water wells was not natural or in them, before drilling took place in 2008. As a result of plugging of gas wells and repairs of others that the DEP ordered, methane levels in 13 of them fell to concentrations below the action standard by December 2010.

The partisans on both sides of the Dimock water wars are unsatisfied with the twin conclusions that no contamination of water due to hydraulic fracturing happened, but methane migration to some water wells did occur due to errors in casing or cementing in the drilling phase.  Each wants total victory and battles the truth that denies it to both.

The truth in Dimock is that hydraulic fracturing did not cause frack fluids to contaminate water wells, but gas did migrate as a result of errors in drilling the gas wells.  Hopefully that truth will not be a casualty of the Dimock water wars.




19 comments:

  1. the controversy does continue . The EPA says that no results are above levels of concern, but that does not include a number of industrial chemicals found , which have no EPA standard levels of contamination. What are you going to do with that? I wouldn't want to drink water that has levels of any industrial contaminants and other contaminants. Would you?
    I've seen appraisals of these EPA results , outside of the EPA, by hydrogeoglogist, scientists and they conclude that the water is not safe and further study is in order. The EPA can be sued and their language is ambiguous and not forthright.

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    1. Concerned ScientistApril 9, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      Vera - can we have some specifics? What chemicals exactly are you referring to? Which hydrogeologists are saying the water isn't safe to drink?

      this is classic - people beg the EPA to come in and test the water because they don't trust DEP. The EPA comes in, comes to pretty much the exact same conclusion that DEP did and now they don't trust them and only trust "scientists" who have an anti-fracking agenda to start with.

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  2. Concerned ScientistApril 9, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    Methane migration due to drilling is a real but also a very complicated problem. It is complicated because methane contamination can and does occur naturally. As many have pointed out on this blog and elsewhere, literally tens of thousands of wells in northeastern PA and southern NY already have methane in their water and it is naturally occurring. People who know about this, such as Brian Oram, suggest that the amount of naturally occurring methane can vary significantly with the air temperature, water levels and more, so there is actually a significant natural variation in the quantity of naturally occurring methane in people's well water.

    Drilling can also cause methane migration in that part of the world because there are several gas-charged sands just below the aquifer. These are thousands of feet above the Marcellus. After wells are drilled through the fresh water aquifer, companies are required to set what is called surface casing. They put pipe in the hole they have drilled and then pump cement into the space between the ground and the pipe. If there is gas in the formation just below the fresh water aquifer, this gas can channel its way up through the cement before it has a chance to dry and work its way into the aquifer and into the water wells of nearby homes. Companies have been addressing this problem by changing the chemistry of their cement so that the gas can't channelize through it before it dries. There have been some other cases besides Dimock, but my understanding is that the number of methane migration cases has been significantly reduced.

    The number of cases of naturally-occurring methane contamination are probably at least 100 times more common than drilling related methane contamination. There are many tales of burning faucets from decades ago. There is a park called Salt Springs State Park where naturally occurring methane has been bubbling out of the ground for centuries.

    Note that the anti-shale gas people all still talking primarily about Dimock, PA which happened four years ago. Thousands of wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured since then. If this were a widespread problem, people would not still be talking about Dimock. They would be talking about an epidemic of problems. That isn't the case.

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  3. what would really put this to rest is if the gas company that drilled the negligent gas wells would admit they did..instead DEP has allowed them to state-in the consent order that they did not do anything wrong. WE/I will not rest until they are held accountable-until they apologize and make a public statement that they drilled inferior wells, they were reckless and careless in their rush to drill here in Dimock. As far as other contaminants-I believe time will prove drinking water is at serious risk. If it were only gas migration-not to undermine the serious of that- we would be at peace. John, I have smelled, seen the water you would have us drink. Our children will not drink this water.

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  4. One thing that we truly must recognize is the very fine definition which the oil and gas industry uses for the term "fracing" (or "fracking"). The industry refers to this as that moment when the explosions are set off to perforate the horizontal casing and to fracture the shale layer. The industry's definition does not refer to the entire process whereby gas is extracted and processed in horizontal drilling/unconventional natural gas extraction. When the industry - or government agencies or industry-sponsored university researchers - say that fracking has not caused contamination of water supplies, they are referring only to that moment. Has that precise moment of perforation caused water contamination? I don't know. Have *other* aspects of shale gas drilling and processing led to contamination, such as dumping, leaks, seepages, casing failures and poorly handled drilling processes? Absolutely. We need to quit playing games with the definition of "fracing/fracking" if we are truly to address the very real problems that residents in Pennsylvania and in other states with shale gas reserves are experiencing.

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    1. Everyone does need to quit playing games and focus on the real problems that do exist. Spills and leaks at the surface are a real problem and efforts to minimize them must continue. Improper casing and cementing during the drilling phase, that is distinct and separate, from the hydraulic fracturing phase can happen and can cause gas to migrate, when it does. With the possible exception of Pavillion, Wyoming, where hydraulic fracturing was done within a couple hundred feet of the aquifer and where an EPA investigation continues, there has never been one case where frack fluids returned from depth to contaminate an aquifer. The record shows that is not the risk. Focusing on the real issues that do exist is what is needed.

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    2. Concerned ScientistApril 9, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      Right On

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    3. We do need to quit playing names with "fracing". Drilling is drilling. Fracing is fracing. Surface spills are surface spills. The anti-drillers are the ones that up and decided that fracing is a synonym for the entire drilling process. It's not. You can drill a gas/oil well and not frac it. You can use fracing on non oil/gas wells (geothermal). The methane migration in Dimock has absolutely nothing to do with fracing. Had those wells never been fraced, the migration still would have occurred.

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  5. Mr. Hanger: If you stand by what you write, then are you willing to come to Carter Rd and drink the water on a daily basis?>
    What about the gas flaring that went on for a week? Are you going to tell me that was harmless also?> Does any cabot CEO live next door to a drill rig or compressor station? If not, why not?

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  6. Victoria,

    You don't think that the tens of millions of dollars that the gas company has lost over this, the years and years of bad press, and the settlement that made them fix the water and give you fair compensation would be considered "holding them accountable"?

    There are few even in the industry (myself included) that would try to argue that gas drilling didn't cause methane migration in Dimock. Frac chemicals though? It's now been proven many times over that frac fluids didn't enter the aquifer. If there had been a breach of the wellbore, the brine would have sent sodium readings through the roof.

    But I'll leave you with a two questions. It has been told to me by MANY water quality and water well drilling experts that the brown, smelly water in Dimock can often happen when a water well has not been properly maintained (purged and whatnot). Have you or any of the other Dimock residents had a water well specialist come in to properly purge and maintain the well in an effort to increase the quality. If the water is foul because you haven't been using it for a while and just needs purged, do you think that is fair to blame the gas company? When I moved into my place last year the house had been unoccupied for some time, and the water looked about like the "brown jug" water in Dimock for about a week until the aquifer flushed out.

    Also, any idea why Scott Ely is building a McMansion on his property if he believes the water there to be irreparably degraded?

    Best of luck,

    Mike

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    1. Concerned ScientistApril 9, 2012 at 12:42 PM

      "Also, any idea why Scott Ely is building a McMansion on his property if he believes the water there to be irreparably degraded?"

      OMG

      Is this true? Any photos you can link to? The "gas drilling kills real estate values" and the "you have ruined our life here" arguments sound a little hollow upon hearing this news

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    2. or could it be since no one will buy his home, he is making the most of the hand he's been dealt.

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    3. Escrow accounts averaging $201,000 were established by the order of DEP for 18 families where testing documented that the gas in well water was thermogenic (plus other evidence), to compensate them, on the assumption that the value of their home had been damaged by gas being in their water. The escrow accounts were not conditioned on dropping any other litigation that a family may have had. Seven families used the escrow accounts.

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    4. Anonymous:

      Are you seriously suggesting that Mr. Ely's response to his property being so devalued he couldn't even sell it was to build a SEVEN THOUSAND SQUARE FOOT HOUSE on it?

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  7. Concerned Scientist, it's absolutely true. Why, as you said, would someone build a 7,000 square foot mansion on a property with bad water?:

    Before I posted this I verified, using my mapping software, to go back in time to 2010 to compare vs recent photos:

    http://www.knappap.com/content/ely.png


    Link to AP article with up close pic: http://www.gosanangelo.com/photos/2011/apr/16/45724/


    Link to discussion on PAGasLease.com
    http://www.naturalgasforums.com/index.php/topic,15610.0.html

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    1. someone sounds Jealous?

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    2. Concerned ScientistApril 10, 2012 at 11:14 AM

      Wow - the Dimock Proud people who suggest that this is all about money for the people suing Cabot sure look like they might have a point. Why on earth would someone build a huge house like that on what they are claiming is now worthless or seriously devalued land? And these people are accepting water from Mark Ruffalo and the EPA when they have that kind of dough?

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  8. I cannot speak for the Ely family, but I can tell you we finished our home that we were too far into financially to abandon. If we had it to over again? We don't get to press the rewind button..but, assuming the gas company had been truthful-ask Ken Komoroski if they could have done a better job with that- we would NOT have built our home here. As for the apology, so far Cabot has not acknowledged any wrong doing. They BRAGGED that DEP's actions would not bother their profit margin at all. I think you have not read all that you might have. John knows what went down. 4 million? half of that went to disciples of Cabot. I should have drank the kool-aid.

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  9. But you do get to press the "$162,352 of no strings attached settlement compensation for any perceived devaluation of your property" button.

    It's certainly curious that Mr. Ely seems to have put his money somewhere far from where his mouth is. But then again he may be able to afford it. I looked up what the Ely wells have produced so far, and ran some basic math... turns out the Ely wells have paid out somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000,000 in royalties through 2011 (assuming a very low 12.5% royalty percentage).

    http://www.knappAP.com/content/elyproduction.pdf


    And also Victoria, would you mind addressing whether or not you or the other litigants had a well water quality specialist out to see if the sediment and minerals causing the brown, smelly condition can be purged out of the aquifer?

    Thanks,

    Mike

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