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Are Methane Impacts in Groundwater the Result of Hydraulic Fracturing, the USGS and New York May Have Some Answers

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Date: October 2, 2012

By Craig Sandefur, Vice President

Being that I am a groundwater remediation professional and that our Company has seen thousands of contaminated groundwater sites over the last 18 years, I have been reading and thinking about the topic of methane abundance in groundwater for the past year or so. More specifically, I’d like to submit that since no one has historically been testing groundwater for methane (no baseline) that it is possible that to some extent methane is naturally present in most groundwater aquifers.

Now we have some early data from the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) on the State of New York. This report indicates that methane is fairly abundant in groundwater in >50% of the State (I am pretty sure that the geographic distribution is predictable based on geology). No big surprise really…. however, if you believe the attorneys and some of the regulators, this methane appeared after hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activities. I contend, given what we know about groundwater chemistry, that much of this methane has always been there. People (regulators, research types and the general public) just haven’t paid attention or bothered to ask the question – was it there in the first place? The natural processes are the natural processes. Microseeps of petrogenic gas are ancient (pick your favorite organic rich geologic period), layer in some biogenic gas and you have a significant distribution of low level methane present.  Just because we haven’t been enlightened enough to check for it doesn’t mean it’s not there. I sense that the general public has been poorly informed and in my opinion some in the scientific community (and in particular the regulatory agencies) have been too quick to jump onto the anti-fracking bandwagon…

Next step (good science) is to document whether the origin of the methane that is present is biogenic, petrogenic or both… stay tuned…