A recurring question in the gas drilling debate is “does hydraulic fracturing lead to gas migration?” The answers are opposite of each other: Many residents who live near gas wells that have undergone hydraulic fracturing insist that it does, while drilling companies almost always insist that it does not, even when they agree to pay settlements.
Back in June, Chesapeake Energy agreed to pay $1.6 million to three families in Wyalusing in Bradford County to settle a case in which the families claim that drilling and fracking caused the contamination of their wells. Chesapeake agreed to settle, but the company took the position that drilling was not the cause of the contamination. Because there were no pre-drilling tests of possible contamination of the wells, it is nearly impossible to prove the matter one way or the other.
In response to incidents like that, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), a citizens group known for its anti-gas drilling stance, has created a sort of township-wide insurance policy for Damascus by measuring the ambient gas levels in numerous locations along public roads in the township.
The measurements were taken by Gas Safety USA, a company that measures leaks from gas pipelines among other things. The company uses relatively new technological advancements that make testing for ambient levels of natural gas more affordable than it used to be.
Barbara Arrindell, director of DCS, said, “The results for Damascus indicate relatively low and reasonably consistent methane concentrations throughout the township. They indicate the pristine environment that is at stake if gas fracking takes place and offer additional evidence as to why we feel so strongly that hydraulic fracturing should be banned in the Delaware River Basin and elsewhere.”
She said there were some minor hot spots of methane that were related to cows, pastures and barns. She said Damascus has a background level of methane of about 1.9 parts per million (ppm), as does Bradford County, which has a large amount of drilling. But, she said, peaks in drilling areas in Bradford went from 5 to 20 ppm, where in Damascus peaks inched up to about only 4 ppm.
Tom Shepstone, a spokesman for the pro-drilling group Energy In Depth, said that while baseline testing was “never a bad idea,” he said that Damascus has no history of methane migration while places like Bradford County do.
Still, because of the DCS study, if drilling should ever come to Damascus, any resident who believes that his or her land or water has been damaged by drilling will have a tool that will be able to quantify any increased amount of methane in the atmosphere.
Data from the study is available to all landowners in the township for a processing fee of $100.