Studies Find Methane in Pennsylvania Drinking Water

Two recent studies found high levels of methane in some water wells within a half-mile of gas wells and serious methane pollution occurring naturally and far from drilling, the Associated Press (AP) reported Monday.

One study by Duke University, which expanded a 2011 study that found drilling was polluting some water wells with methane, concluded that contamination from drilling was not epidemic and represented a minority of cases. However, the Duke team found serious contamination from bubbly methane is "much more" prevalent in some water wells within 1.6 miles of gas drilling sites.

The study of 141 northeastern Pennsylvania water wells found methane levels an average of six times higher in the water wells closer to drilling sites, compared with wells farther away. The study also found 12 homes with levels higher than the recommended federal limit of 28 milligrams per liter, and 11 of those water wells were closer to gas drilling sites. The Duke researchers believe that faulty drilling can cause methane pollution, but methane pollution also can result from natural causes as well.

A second study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found some northeastern Pennsylvania water wells in areas where no drilling is occurring nearby are naturally contaminated with high levels of methane. The study findings, released last week, also found that 85 percent of the samples had radon levels higher than federal safe limits.

Methane is an odorless gas that is not known to be toxic, but can be explosive and deadly in high concentrations, AP noted.

A 2012 study by Duke concluded that elevated salinity levels in well water in northeastern Pennsylvania were not likely caused by hydraulic fracturing.



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