Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP Investigating Potential Shell Methane Migration

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

An antique Shell gasoline pump at an Ohio oil and gas museum

Click here for an update from Tioga County.

As Governor Corbett pushes to give Royal Dutch Shell a $1.65 billion tax credit, the Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a potential methane migration problem in Union Township, Tioga County, involving the company’s natural gas drilling arm.

A Shell spokeswoman says the company’s tests show “a very low hazard risk to people, vegetation, and fish in the immediate area,” but Shell has nevertheless asked the handful of people who live within a one-mile radius of the drilling site to temporarily evacuate their homes.

Shell has also sent a well control specialist team to the site.

DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni confirmed the probe in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania. “DEP was notified of the problem by Shell on June 17,” he writes. “Shell is fully cooperating with the response and investigation.”

According to Spadoni, a drinking water well located 4,000 feet from a Shell drilling site began overflowing this weekend.  “Shell has several well pads in the area in various stages of completion.  They stopped all operations in the area when notified of a problem,” he wrote, noting “bubbling was also noted at multiple locations in a nearby stream.”

The Wellsboro Gazette has posted a picture of that “bubbling,” which looks more like a miniature geyser shooting fluid more than a foot above the ground.

Methane migration occurs naturally, but has also been associated with faulty well casing. DEP blames well contamination problems in Dimock on the issue. (For an interactive map of wells in Tioga County, click here.)

 

Meantime, Corbett and legislative leaders have reached a tentative agreement to grant Shell a $2.10-a-barrel tax break on ethane purchases. The bill would save Shell up to $66 million a year if it builds an ethane cracker in Beaver County. Shell would already benefit from a 15-year tax exemption, due to legislation passed earlier this year.

You can read the rest of Spadoni’s statement below. We’ll post more information when we have it.

DEP Oil and Gas staff collected water and isotopic samples from the hunting club well and stream on June 18. A Shell contractor drilled a hole in the water well casing and installed an overflow line to stop the overflow, installed methane alarms in the cabin, and will vent the well to the outside today. DEP has recommended the cabin not be occupied until further notice.

Additional surface expressions of gas along the road leading to the hunting cabin were discovered on June 18, and Shell has placed security guards at both ends of the road to limit access. Shell is monitoring conditions continuously in this area for any changes that may require additional controls.

On Tuesday, June 19, Shell’s consultants had several teams begin screening within a one-mile radius of the hunting camp to check for methane gas and sample any private drinking water wells potentially impacted. That screening continued yesterday, June 20, within a one-mile radius of the three Shell gas well pads in the area. Shell is conducting further investigation and operations on their nearby well pads. Yesterday, June 20, DEP Oil and Gas staff monitored the hunting cabin and surface expressions. No determination has been made regarding the source or sources of the methane, and the investigation is continuing.

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