Facts Prevail in Portage County Methane Case

Earlier this year, the Today show on NBC aired a story featuring some rather vivid images of a Portage County, Ohio family igniting the faucets in their home. The “Rossen Reports” piece omitted some key facts in its haste to connect the methane to oil and gas development (which was occurring more than 1,800 feet from the family’s water well). EID debunked that accusatory “news” story here.

One of the more glaring omissions was that the family had not only drilled their water well into a methane-bearing shallow bedrock aquifer, but also the fact that dissolved methane was present in the Kline well prior to any oil and gas development.

This much was demonstrated in the pre-drill water testing that the operator supplied to the family. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) confirmed that the area was known for having naturally occurring methane in water supplies, and that the source was likely natural causes.

Nevertheless, ODNR launched an investigation into the matter to determine the cause of methane migration. This morning, ODNR released its full report, its findings confirmed that the methane was naturally occurring not a result of oil and gas development. From ODNR:

“The Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management has concluded the methane in the Kline water well is naturally occurring and not the result of oilfield activities by Mountaineer Keystone, LLC.  Sampling of seventeen area water wells in February 2013 did not show any indications that oilfield contaminants had been introduced into the groundwater through the drilling of the Soinski wells.” (Executive Summary, p. iii)

ODNR interviewed water well professionals and area residents, reviewed water well records and baseline (pre-drilling) water tests, and even looked through professionally published papers to conclude that methane was present in the bedrock aquifers in Nelson and Windham Townships prior to shale development.

Researching water wells drilled from 1973-2000, ODNR investigators found the water quality of wells along Silica Sand Road have a long history of poor water quality, including the presence of methane:

“Water well driller notation on ODNR-Division of Soil and Water Resources logs for wells drill along Silica Sand Road between 1973 and 200 describe the water quality as ‘oily’, ‘gassy’ and/or ‘cloudy.’ Completion cards for oil and gas well drilled during the 1970’s often note that water encountered while drilling through the Berea Sandstone in Nelson Township is brackish.” (p. 8)

A neighbor of the Kline family also informed ODNR investigators that her own and neighboring water wells have always contained methane:

“Ms. Esta Everhart, a neighbor of the Klines, who has lived on Silica Sand Road since 1958 stated the water from her well has always had gas in it.  She also told DOGRM about a water well drilled in the 1950’s at 10688 Silica Sand Road that had both gas and crude oil in it.” (p. 8)

Aside from the long, detailed history of poor water quality in the area, water samples collected from the Kline well itself show the chemical makeup of the methane to be of biogenic origin, indicating the source was not oil and gas development:

“The analysis determined the methane in the Kline well to be genetically distinct from gas originating in deeper gas reservoirs such as the Clinton Sandstone and Utica Shale.  The gas is biogenic in origin and consistent with a near-surface microbial gas and not thermogenic gas.” (p. 17)

Biogenic methane is very different from the thermogenic gas that companies would be developing from deep shale deposits, including the Utica.  Thermogenic gas is created when organic material is compressed at very high pressure and temperature for millions of years.  Biogenic methane, on the other hand, is typically caused by shallower decaying microbes.

As part of its investigation, ODNR also asked the operator to voluntarily test the water wells of 17 other residents to ensure none of the neighboring residents were impacted by the company’s activities.  Throughout the testing, it was determined oil and gas activities were not responsible for any contamination surrounding the well:

“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management has concluded that the methane in the Kline water well is naturally occurring and is not the result of oilfield activities by Mountaineer Keystone, LLC at the Soinski well pad.  Isotopic analysis of the methane in the Kline well was identified as near-surface microbial gas that is genetically different from thermogenic gas produced in deeper geologic formations like the Utica Shale.

“Sampling of seventeen area water wells in February 2013 did not show any indications that oilfield contaminants had been introduced into the groundwater through the drilling of the Soinski wells.” (p. 19-20)

Though the findings of this report clearly indicate the presence of methane in the Kline family well is not a result of oil and gas development, it is unfortunate the story was presented to the public as if that were the case.  We hope NBC will air a follow-up segment with a careful explanation of the facts, lest their viewers be left with an incomplete story.

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