The Physics Police

The Physics Police

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Dimock Debacle

A while back, the Los Angeles Times ran an article by Neela Banerjee titled Internal EPA report highlights disputes over fracking and well water.

The article reports on a slideshow, produced by Isotech titled Determining the origin of methan and its effect on the aquifer which concludes:
Methane is released during the drilling and perhaps during the fracking process...
They were able to determine the source of methane by a technique involving isotopic analysis. Gasses like methane and ethane contain carbon. The amount of carbon-13 in these gasses works as a sort of fingerprint, and can be used to identify the source of the gas.

Isotech ruled out any biogenic source for the methane in 11 of the sampled wells, demonstrating that their gas contents originated in the Marcellus Shale, and Upper and Middle Devonian.

I'll be the first to say that the presence of Marcellus and Devonian gasses are in these wells is likely caused by fracking, for reasons below. It is worth mentioning, however, that the data in this report was very, very spotty. The report is NOT a peer-reviewed study. In each location, data recording started after drilling, so a causal connection can't be made. In addition to being spotty, some data may have be cherry-picked, as cautioned on slide 26:
Data was selected on basis of the most representative of well conditions. Due to incomplete data description, in some cases data may not be representative of the well or the data was not plotted...
Despite these shortcomings, I think it's safe to call this evidence of well contamination due to fracking operations, especially in light of the following corroborating evidence.

In 2009, within the time frame of the report, the Pennsylvania DEP submitted a modification to consent order and agreement where they stated:
Gesford 3 and Gesford 9 Wells which the Department had already determined to have insufficient/improper casing.
At least two wells in the area were known to have bad casings, which can obviously allow gas to leak, and possibly get into nearby wells.

Sadly but predictably, anti-fracking bloggers ran amok with this story. Their false claims include conspiracy to censor the report, and that the results show dangerous levels of contamination.

They even got Yoko Ono walking around carrying a jug of brown water!

Steve Horn of Counter Punch said in Inside the Censored EPA Fracking Water Study that:
The PowerPoint's conclusions are damning.
Wait, what about these conclusions are so damning? See for yourself, in the infamous slide 25.

This slide shows methane at 65 ppm, while slide 5 shows the threshold limit value is 1,000 ppm. Arsenic levels are shown to be less than 10 ppb, which is the EPA standard for drinking water.

So, the drinking water is safe. The contamination is anecdotal, and was known about back in 2009.

Let's not take things too far. Let's not be like Mr. Sautners, who rejected the scientific evidence placed right in front of him, when the EPA told him his drinking water was safe. Sorry, no monetary settlement for you, Mr. Sautners!

We should also avoid the mistake of Tammy Manning from Franklin Forks, Pennsylvania. Back in 2011, her well water started to look brown. She had it tested and found unsafe levels of methane. Even after a science-based, fact-finding effort by the DEP definitively showed that fracking operations were not responsible for the methane in her water, Manning continued to blame others for her poor well quality.

Maybe there's another, natural explanation for the brown water in Manning's well?

I don't know. Maybe you've heard of a little storm called Hurricane Irene...


No comments:

Post a Comment