New Report Finds Naturally Occurring Methane in Groundwater in Southern Tier County

Another study on groundwater in the Southern Tier of New York was recently completed by researchers from Cornell University. The study looked at 113 water well samples in Chenango County, New York during the spring of 2012. Like many of the other groundwater studies completed in both New York and Pennsylvania, the study found naturally occurring methane in the groundwater.

The study looked to establish a baseline for groundwater quality in the region prior to any shale development coming into the state. It also tracked the origin of methane and looked to see if it correlated with existing conventional wells in the region. Researchers found that there was no link, stating:

“Statistical comparison of methane concentration and δ13C-CH4 using the Mann–Whitney non-parametric test indicated no significant difference (p = 0.29; p = 0.48) ( Fig. 4a and e) between the distribution of samples less than 1 km (n = 8) and greater than 1 km (n = 105) from an existing natural gas well.”

“When examining possible environmental drivers of the methane patterns, methane was not significantly correlated to proximity to gas wells.

Here are some additional findings from the study:

  • 31 water wells exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level for manganese.
  • 1 water well exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level for Chloride.
  • 1 water well exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level for barium.
  • 63 of the water wells had low amounts of methane concentrations, which fell under 0.01 mg L.

Findings on naturally occurring barium are important because the presence of barium is often mistakenly assumed to be from contamination from oil and gas development.  This study is the latest in a string of studies that have shown high levels of barium and other naturally occurring minerals prior to any development.

Groundwater tests in New York and across the border in Pennsylvania are important in establishing a baseline for water quality in the region. It has also given landowners a look at the existing water quality issues they’ve had without even knowing. For example, a groundwater study in Pike County, Pennsylvania revealed naturally occurring methane in several water wells. What’s interesting about Pike County is that, like New York State, it too has a moratorium on shale development.

Previous groundwater studies in New York and Northeast Pennsylvania can be found here, here, here and here.


  1. Fred says:

    Trace amounts of methane are sometimes found in wells, often due to decaying matter in groundwater structures which may create methane, sometimes due to old conventional wells leaking into the ground water, and sometimes due to naturally occurring communication between deposits and the ground water table. This fact does nothing to diminish the occurrences of vast amounts of methane and other contaminants in water that previously had little or no methane for decades, within weeks months or years of gas drilling activities. 2 plus 2 = 4. If the industy believes that occurrences are so low, why are they not willing to accept the financial risk for all consequences of contamination? Why have gas companies denied contamination of ground water supplies despite irrefutable evidence of contamination by constitutents in water used for fracking that do not naturally occur in the earth? Irresponsibility of players in this industry, and the industries continued desire to avoid responsibilty, prevent legislation to create proper responsibilty and act in secrecy when clearly there is no need for secrecy other than to prevent the public from perfecting rightful claims for damage. I suggest that the industry protests to much and refuses to accept responsibility too often. People are being financially wiped out as a result of the incidence of leakage, no matter how insignificant. If the gas industry is so responsible, why did the gas industry not condemn actions by Cabot? The industry lacks any credibilty.


  1. […] This picture was published in the August, 1980 issue of National Geographic magazine, long before fracking was a household word anywhere in the world. It was also taken in Minnesota, a long way from any drilling activity. It demonstrates natural gas often flows naturally into water wells, without any fracking whatsoever, as recent reports from the Southern Tier have also noted. […]

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