Pennsylvania

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Tioga County Methane Migration: Onetime Geyser Being Brought Under Control

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shell is flaring off wells to reduce gas pressure in Tioga County

(Wellsboro, Tioga County) — A geyser of methane-infused water has been reduced to waist-height, as Shell Appalachia works to contain mysterious methane migration near a cluster of three of its natural gas wells in southeastern Tioga County.

The geyser was shooting water more than thirty feet into the air at one point, but Tioga County Emergency Services Coordinator Denny Colegrove said it was down to less than two feet by yesterday evening.

Shell is flaring off nearby wells in order to reduce underground gas pressure. “We’re seeing that brings down – it depressurizes – the gas that could be contributing to migration in the immediate area,” said Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh.

In addition to the roadside geyser – or former geyser – methane has been detected bubbling up in nearby streams, and a private water well has overflown. A private landowner first detected a methane problem on Saturday. It’s not clear yet whether the migration is directly tied to Shell drilling, but the company is working with the Department of Environmental Protection to stop the flow of gas.

A voluntary evacuation request has been issued for people living within a mile of the suspected well, though Union Township is so rural that only four people have been affected. (For an interactive map of wells in Union Township, click here.)

Shell has requested people who live within near a mile of the suspected well pad to evacuate their homes, though the affected stretch is so rural that only four people live within that zone. “This is a safety precaution on our part,” said op de Weegh. “It’s worth noting the methane levels that we’re seeing are low.”

Nevertheless, Tioga County has mapped out an evacuation plan for  the more than 100 people who live within a  two-mile radius of the incident. Colegrove said he doesn’t think the extended evacuation will be needed.

What’s causing the methane migration? The investigation is still early, but the primary suspect is an unmapped, abandoned gas well more than 70 years old. Shell is digging near the site to gather more information. Colegrove pointed out Tioga County has experienced methane migration problems for decades, and “every case that I’m aware of has gone back to improper procedures [at extraction sites] that were done decades, or generations past.”

None of those cases, however, involved a thirty-foot geyser.

Check StateImpact Pennsylvania throughout the day for more information, including an update from the Department of Environmental Protection.

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