As the Dimock case approaches resolution, gas migration causing methane pollution of water wells remains a problem , as the report from Leroy Towhship, PA by Scott Detrow demonstrates.
Detrow does a good job of making it clear that the pollution of Mike and Nancy Leighton's water well has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing but instead results from mistakes in drilling and cementing the gas well. Frack fluids and chemicals are not returning from depth. Again, getting clarity about what the problem is and what it is not is imperative.
I am glad to see Chesapeake Energy acknowledge that its gas drilling operation caused the gas to migrate and work to fix the problems. Chesapeake is not denying and otherwise obfuscating.
The gas industry must routinely recognize, accept, and fix its mistakes. It's not perfect and never will be. But it can be better, even excellent.
For excellence in operations to be achieved, every company and employee in the gas industry must treat gas migration as a real problem that should be a top priority. In this vein, I was disappointed by the quotation in the Detrow piece from API, but that may be a function of not including all that was said by the API spokesperson.
In this piece, the API stresses the infrequency of gas migration, when I would have hoped that the API would stress how important it is to prevent gas migration and for the industry to become consistently more excellent in operations to reduce further gas migration cases. Strong rules and strong enforcement of rules can make a major difference, but excellent operations makes the biggest difference of all.
Right now, the number of mistakes that lead to gas migration remains higher than should be the case, if operational excellence was the standard at every gas well. More leadership is needed within the industry, because the results are not where they should be.
As a result, landowners in leases and regulators need to consider measures to drive more industry focus on preventing gas migration by each and every gas drilling company and all their contractors. In the Dimock case, DEP required repairing or plugging gas wells, a halt to drilling by the company that caused migration in the area of the migration, and the payment of two times the market value of the property to which gas migrated, to serve as compensation and deterrence.
Finally, gas migration to a private water well is a major problem for any family so impacted. The problem when it occurs must be fixed and compensation paid. And as I have just made clear more needs to be done to prevent the problem in the first place.
Having said all of that, the damage done by pollution pouring from sewer plants, run-off from streets, lawns, and fields, acid mine pollution from coal piles or old mines dwarfs the harm done to Pennsylvania's waters by migrating gas to probably about 100 water wells in Pennsylvania. That is not a reason to ignore the gas migration issue. It must not be ignored.
But gas drilling's impacts on Pennsylvania's waters would not rank in the top 5, or even the top 10, of the causes of water pollution here. That too must not be ignored.