Methane in Dimock, PA Water Is From Fracking

A recent article about hydraulic fracturing published by The New York Times may have raised doubts about the source of water contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania. But according to a report from ProPublica, it has already been determined that fracking is responsible for the methane gas that is plaguing many water wells in the northeastern Pennsylvania town.

In Dimock, problems with the cement casing on 20 natural gas wells drilled by Cabot Oil & Gas have been blamed for methane contamination of local water wells. Levels of methane in some Dimock water wells are so high that homeowners are able to set water aflame as it comes out of their taps. At least 15 families in Dimock have filed suit against Cabot over their water problems.

Though it will not admit that fracking is behind the water problems in Dimock, Cabot is going to pay $12 million to pipe municipal water from the nearby town of Montrose down to Dimock, and the company has already been paying to provide expensive water filtering systems to many residents there.

According to ProPublica, a New York Times piece published on November 6 seems to raise doubts about the true cause of Dimock’s water problems. It quotes a 78-year-old Montrose woman who said she’s had methane in the water of her family farm for decades — long before the drilling started.

According to the ProPublica rebuttal, methane contamination is common in many Pennsylvania water wells. But the type referred to by the Montrose woman is different than what residents of Dimock are experiencing. The gas found naturally in water wells comes either from methane deposits somewhere near the earth’s surface, or from the decomposition of bacteria (this is called biogenic methane).

But according to ProPublica, tests of the methane found in Dimock wells have determined that its origin is “thermogenic,” meaning it is essentially the same kind of gas that the energy companies are drilling for. In fact, the testing proves that the Dimock methane is coming from the Devonian layer of shale, thousands of feet below the surface, ProPublica said.

As ProPublica points out, there is little debate among regulators and scientists that the contamination in Dimock is related to the drilling, despite the allusions made by The New York Times article.

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