New Syracuse Methane Study Echoes University of Cincinnati Results

by Jackie Stewart, Energy in Depth

Just one month after the University of Cincinnati (UC) released the results of an important methane groundwater study, another study has been released by researchers at Syracuse University entitled Dissolved methane in Shallow groundwater of the Appalachian Basin: Results from the Chesapeake Energy predrilling geochemical database.
The study’s data set includes groundwater data from private water wells in Ohio and is “the most comprehensive to date for this part of the Appalachian Basin.” The study specifically examined the issue of preexisting methane in groundwater, an essential metric which was also a highlight of the UC study. Through an analysis of 19,278 predrilling groundwater samples this new study reinforces UC’s findings regarding preexisting methane in groundwater. As the study rightly points out:
“Without a proper understanding of preexisting methane occurrence in groundwater, investigations may incorrectly conclude that unconventional hydrocarbon development and production has altered shallow groundwater quality when it has not (i.e. a false positive).” (emphasis added).
The following chart compares this latest groundwater study with the UC study including funding sources, size of sampling and findings.
StudyFunding of StudyTime Horizon of Study# of SamplesTime Horizon of SamplesFindings
UC StudySamples funded by activists and non-profits. Equipment for study, funded by taxpayers.2011-2015194 (all taken in Ohio: Stark, Columbiana, Carroll, Harrison, Belmont Counties)All samples taken before, during, and after drilling.Baseline testing predrilling concluded that 4 water wells contained dissolved methane with hazardous limits.
Chesapeake StudyFunded by Chesapeake Energy.2009-201219,278 Appalachian Basin (11,309 northeastern PA, 7,969 north-central West Virginia, Ohio (Carrol & Stark Counties, and southwestern PA)All samples taken only predrilling.Baseline testing predrilling showed that in in 22.9% of predrilling samples naturally exceeded the limit for dissolved methane in northeastern PA, and 24.8% exceeded the limit in the western area, including Ohio.

Figure 2 highlights the sizeable sampling area that includes must of eastern Ohio, where the vast majority of shale drilling occurred during the time horizon of the sampling.

Figure 5 highlights preexisting methane found in groundwater water samples before the onset of any shale development in eastern Ohio. As you can see, a large number of samples, particularly in eastern Ohio, had methane levels that exceeded 10mg/l.

Both state code and action levels recommended by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (2001) require action be taken to remedy the excessive preexisting methane found in these water sample that are highlighted in red. To learn more about Ohio’s laws regarding methane and actions that should be taken to remedy predrilling water quality concerns, such as methane, click here.
Table 6, outlines the Summary of Findings for dissolved methane in predrilling samples, as you can see, Ohio samples were analyzed as part of the western area of this study.

The Syracuse study confirms the critical fact that the Appalachian Basin has a long history of preexisting dissolved methane in groundwater which predates shale drilling. The research also highlights the importance of baseline water testing.  As the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) stated in a 2013 presentation:
“Methane in water wells is a relatively common occurrence in some localized areas of Ohio and is not a new phenomenon.” (emphasis added)
This new study reaffirms what many other studies have reported about preexisting water quality in the Appalachian Basin.  In fact, even before this news, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) researched water wells drilled from 1973-2000.  ODNR investigators found the water quality of some wells in Ohio 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)
In addition, the ODNR has repeatedly acknowledged that hydraulic fracturing has been proven not to negatively impact water quality of Ohio’s aquifer, as stated in its fact sheet, The Fact About Hydraulic Fracturing:
“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has conducted water well investigations in response to citizen complaints since 1983– none of the investigations revealed groundwater quality problems caused by hydraulic fracturing.”
The bottom line is that by establishing baseline testing to determine the original isotopic signature—like the DNA of the gas—of water samples, we can determine any change that may or may not occur.  For example, the UC study that found, through isotope analysis and baseline water testing:
“Based on the carbon and hydrogen stable isotope data along with the relatively consistent measurements within individual’s wells over the study period, we have found no evidence for natural gas contamination from shale oil and gas mining in any of the sampled groundwater wells of our study.” (Emphasis added)
The UC study would not have been complete and novel had baseline testing not been a key component of their study. The Syracuse water sampling and analysis provides a comprehensive data set to determine the water quality of the 19,278 predrilling groundwater samples of water wells in the Appalachian basin. This data set is a vital constituent of any comprehensive and meaningful analysis of the impact of oil and natural gas on groundwater quality, on that is toooften missed by activists seeking to serve an anti-industry narrative.

Copyright Energy in Depth. Reprinted with permission. Original article:

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