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Biogenic gas CAN migrate as a result of fracking. - SM

Posted: Apr 9th, 2013 - 7:22 pm In Reply to: Check out the statistics. EPA has been monitoring - Truthhurts

Those families in the film Gasland did not have flammable water before fracking.




I am taking this point out of order because it is so important to the film I want to address it near the beginning of this document:

E-I-D claims:

Mike Markham in Gasland ]: Fox blames flammable faucet in Fort Lupton, Colo. on natural gas development. But that’s not true according to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). “Dissolved methane in well water appears to be biogenic [naturally occurring] in origin. … There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.” (complaint resolved 9/30/08, signed by John Axelson of COGCC)


Biogenic gas can migrate as a result of gas drilling.  And hiding behind “biogenic” gas classification is yet another common industry obfuscation tactic.

E-I-D asserts that the gas that Mike Markham lights at his tap was classified as “biogenic” by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, so therefore the problem cannot be attributed to drilling. This is a very misleading assertion, and it is false in several ways. 

A distinction is being made here between “biogenic” and “thermogenic” natural gas. “Biogenic” gas is created by decomposing organic material, and is found in pockets close to the surface. “Thermogenic” natural gas is created by intense pressure in underground rock formations and can come only from deeper layers (including shale, which are targeted by fracking). The different types of gas can be identified by isotopic tests that “fingerprint” the gas. However, gas fingerprinting simply identifies the gas.  It does not identify the migratory pathway of the gas— a key omission.

Just because Mike Markham’s gas is “biogenic” doesn’t mean that its migration into water supplies was not caused by drilling.  I asked Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, the D. C. Baum Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, whose research for more than 30 years has involved structural mechanics, finite element methods, and fracture mechanics: "Can drilling and/or hydraulic fracturing liberate biogenic natural gas into a fresh water aquifer?"

His reply:  "Yes, definitely.  The drilling process itself can induce migration of biogenic gas by disturbance of previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults, or by puncturing pressurized biogenic gas pockets and allowing migration through an as-yet un-cemented annulus, or though a faulty cement job. The hydraulic fracturing process is less likely to cause migration of  biogenic gas; however, the cumulative effect of many, closely spaced, relatively shallow laterals, each fracked (and possibly re-fracked) numerous times, could very well create rock mass disturbances that could, as noted above, open previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults."

So, just because the COGCC labeled the gas "biogenic" doesn’t mean that they actually looked into how it got there. As Professor Ingraffea states above, there are several ways that drilling and fracking can cause biogenic natural gas to migrate into aquifers. COGCC did not conduct a hydro-geologic study to determine the migratory pathways of the gas into the water supply — despite citizens' conviction that the problems with their water happened after fracking occurred nearby.

At the very top of the Gasland interview with Mike Markham and his partner, Marsha Mendenhall, they state very clearly their intense frustration with the COGCC. Holding up the jar of their contaminated water, they explain that the COGCC had ruled that their contamination had nothing to do with gas drilling. This fact is not hidden by the film.

Renee McClure, who also had flammable tap water, expressed frustration with the COGCC as well, stating: "I thought that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was there for the people. They are not there for the people, they are there to work and help the oil and gas companies. And I asked them—who's there for the people? And he told me, 'NOBODY, call an attorney!' " Renee McClure was also told her methane contamination was naturally occurring. Both Markham and McClure stated on the record that their water got worse after nearby fracking and gas-drilling activity had occurred. (And in both cases, water tests showed other contaminants related to oil andgas production in their water wells, which is a fact that E-I-D leaves out.)

There are striking similarities between the industry's and regulators' responses in Weld County, Colorado and Dimock, Pennsylvania. In both cases, citizens had a fundamental distrust of the state regulatory agency, and in both cases gas companies called the gas "biogenic" until the claim was either disproved or additional cases of “thermogenic” gas contamination surfaced.

Widespread frustration with state agencies Like COGCC and PA DEP

Frustration among citizens with their state agencies was very common in my travels, in Colorado, in Pennsylvania, in Texas, and in Arkansas. Citizens pointed out time and time again how they felt their state environmental agencies were not up to the job, or even worse, were in cahoots with the gas companies. In Dimock, Pennsylvania, we were told that Cabot Oil and Gas and DEP reps often walked in together with an air of camaraderie; in Texas, complaints about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission were rampant. It is indeed part of the thesis of  Gasland that state agencies are either overwhelmed or not to be trusted when it comes togas drilling. Mike and Marsha make that point quite clearly. Among folks living in gaslands, state agencies are not living up to their responsibilities to protect citizens and are widely suspected of corruption. 

I also experienced the same frustration with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Dave Neslin, the COGCC executive director, scheduled an interview with me and then promptly canceled it when I asked him to sign a production release. 

We included that refusal in the film. PA DEP secretary John Hanger said there was no contamination of Dimock’s water in the beginning of his interview, but he promptly reversed his position when I offered him some Dimock water to drink, stating that the families that had been contaminated had been given replacement water by the gas companies.

Biogenic/thermogenic reversal in Dimock 

As pointed out before, just because the gas industry says the gas is biogenic doesn’t mean that it actually is.

When I got to Dimock I called Cabot Oil and Gas spokesman Ken Komoroski to ask about Dimock's flammable tap water. He gave me the same explanation, saying that Dimock's water had beenflammable prior to drilling and that the gas was biogenic. A few months later the PA DEP didextensive testing that showed that the gas was in fact thermogenic. (You can see the attached PDF with PA DEP’s findings on the subject and Cabot Oil and Gas’s plea to DEP to not identify the gas as “Marcellus” gas.) Here is a key quote from a PA DEP internal memo on the subject.

Sent: Thursday, January 29, 2OO9 6:54 AM

To: Burch, Kelly; Bowman, Kenneth

cc: sherman, Michael D; Schwartz, Ronald; Lobins, craig; Bialosky, Donald; carmon, Mark; Bedrin, Michael; Sexton, Barbara (DEP)

Subject: RE: Stray gas incident - Dimock Twp,, Susquehanna County

“Based on the existing geochemical data set, we can conclude that the origin of the stray gases detected in the Florentino and sautner [sic] water wells (nine samples analyzed thus far: two = stray gas, seven = potential sources) is thermogenic in origin, consistent with natural gas from Devonian production. The gas found in these water wells is not consistent with microbial gas that occurs in some shallow aquifer systems.”

However, Cabot Oil and Gas's first response, like the gas industry's first response to

Gasland, was to try to discredit the claim. Ken Komoroski stated that Dimock residents either had gas in their water from before the drilling, which all the citizens dispute, or that somehow magically at exactly the same time as drilling started, an unrelated source of natural gas began to migrate into their water supply.

Proven examples of “thermogenic” natural gas in water supplies

Just because Mike Markham’s gas may or may not be biogenic doesn’t mean that all of the examples of lighting water on fire in the film are due to biogenic gas.

This leads me to discuss the case of Mike and Marsha and Renee's neighbors, Amee and Jesse Ellsworth, who are featured in the film just after Mike and Marsha. They light their water on fire in the film. Unlike Mike and Marsha, the methane in their water was ruled “thermogenic” by the COGCC, to have come directly from the deeper layers, i.e., from the layers targeted by gas drilling. Amee and Jesse’s tests were done a year after Mike and Marsha’s tests, which could indicate that thermogenic gas was pushing biogenic gas up to the surface. Biogenic would come up first into the aquifer as in Mike’s 2008 test followed by Amee’s thermogenic gas, tested in 2009.


I will state again, that in neither case did the COGCC do any real hydro-geologic surveying; they only labeled the gas as “thermogenic” or “biogenic” and then walked away, leaving Mike and Marsha, Renee, and Amee with no option but to start hauling water into their houses from a nearby municipal water source, move away and start over, or enter into a negotiation with the gas company for water. 

Of the three cases, Mike and Marsha chose hauling water. They go to town once or twice a week to buy water from a coin-operated machine, as detailed in the film. 

Renee McClure moved out of the area, presumably because of her water and health problems in Weld County. 

Amee and Jess Ellsworth chose to negotiate with the gas company and have now been silenced, compelled to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I checked in with Amee recently to see how she was doing. She said, with regret in her voice, “I can’t talk to you about gas.” She can no longer talk on the record about what happened to her. I don’t know the details, but I do know that she is still being delivered water by the company. She cannot speak to me or anyone about the gag order she was compelled to sign, I found out from a third party. She had to trade her silence for water. At that moment, the truth lost a very powerful and articulate voice. Without water, you cannot sell your  property, and without water you cannot stay on your property. Amee and Jesse’s backs were against the wall; they took the only way out of the nightmare. They sold their first amendment rights for water.

In Dimock, the water problems continue. Cabot Oil and Gas is supplying water to 32 families as ordered by PA DEP, (up significantly from the 4 families that John Hanger notes in the film). In Hickory PA, replacement water is rampant, with some reports stating that over 200 families are receiving replacement water in exchange for non-disclosure agreements. Why should people have to sign an NDA to get clean water after a multi-billion-dollar corporation contaminates their water? Is it right for people to have to trade their silence for what should be their right?

CONCLUSION on biogenic or thermogenic gas:

Whether the gas is determined biogenic or thermogenic, we believe the citizens when they say the problem happened post-drilling and post-fracking. Testing of the drinking water in Dimock prior to drilling showed no gas of any kind in any significant quantities.  The industry is using this biogenic/thermogenic distinction, often with the collusion of state agencies who are not properly investigating, to dispute citizen’s claims of contamination, but it has no basis in science.




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