Energy. Environment. Economy.

Studies show naturally occurring methane in Northeast PA water

A pair of studies released today by the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in private water wells in Wayne and Pike Counties– a region of the state without Marcellus Shale drilling.

Those two counties fall under the jurisdiction of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which currently has a moratorium on fracking.

“These baseline studies are very important,” says USGS researcher Ronald Sloto. “People are very concerned about the environmental impact of shale gas drilling. In order to assess the impact of something, you need a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. Then you compare the two and see what the changes are.”

The samples were collected between 2012 and 2013. In Wayne County, Sloto examined 34 private water wells and found 65 percent had some level of detectable methane. Ten percent of the wells had relatively elevated levels of methane. In Pike County, 80 percent of the 20 tested wells had detectable methane, and again, only 10 percent had elevated levels.

The researchers note that the existence of naturally occurring methane does not absolve the gas industry of its role in contaminating some water supplies. Methane can be naturally occurring, but it can also migrate into water supplies through faulty well casings.

“But in the case of Wayne and Pike counties, the methane we’re measuring is all naturally occurring,” says Sloto.

The results are in line with another USGS study conducted in New York’s Southern Tier in 2012, which found naturally occurring methane was common in private water wells. New York also has a moratorium on shale gas drilling.

Pennsylvania does not regulate private water wells, so in some cases it has been difficult  to determine if methane contamination pre-dates gas drilling. Companies now do baseline water testing before they begin development, and the state’s 2012 oil and gas law, Act 13, expanded the presumption of liability for water contamination

USGS researcher Lisa Senior says the Wayne and Pike County studies also looked at a host of other water contaminates, including chlorides, sodium, strontium, arsenic and barium– which can be associated with fracking wastewaster.

“We tried to get a comprehensive characterization of existing groundwater quality,” says Senior.

There were a few wells that had arsenic concentrations exceeding federal drinking water standards, but Senior says, in general, both counties had good water quality.





  • Jack Wolf

    They may not be fracked, but they are in the heart of PA’s heavily mined anthracite coal region.

    • George Wythe

      Wayne & Pike do not have anthracite coal mines Jack, nor have they been allowed to use hydraulic fracturing.

      • JimBarth

        Are you quite sure about your statement? What about the Susquehanna River Basin portion of Wayne County? How have “they” not “been allowed to use hydraulic fracturing”, and who would have not allowed “them”? Have the wells drilled there been fracked, and, are they productive?

    • FrackDaddy

      Look, another out of stater, claiming to be an expert! But cant tell his Arce from a bore hole!

  • Ghawker


  • JimBarth

    Unfortunately, this article is useless. I suspect the USGS study, as described, unfortunately, is also useless. Think about it. How many square miles exist in Wayne County? How many Townships? Only thirty four private water wells were tested. Two thirds, or, 21, showed “some level of detectable methane”, that fell into a “low to moderate” range. The article does not define “some level of detectable”, or, “low to moderate”. Out of the 21 “some level of detectable methane”, either 2, or 3 (this needs further definition) of the 21 or 34 wells had “relatively elevated levels”. Again, there is no figure given to show what “relatively elevated” means. Also, there is no context given as to what a serious/dangerous level of methane is, so that one might have something to sink their teeth into., There is also no statement as to whether the methane is biogenic or thermogenic in nature. Lastly, were the wells tested evenly distributed over all of Wayne County? Most of us know where the Lackawanna Syncline (the “line of death”) runs. Are the 2 or 3 water wells of “relatively elevated” methane located north and west of the Syncline, or, are they near Honesdale, where gas is piped to homes (gas is not piped to Wayne county homes in general). Damascus Citizens had a methane study performed for Damascus Township, PA. That is real data. Damascus Citizens has also paid to have other Township’s methane levels tested.
    In summary, a heck of a lot more serious study should be performed before an article is written which “65%” of private water wells in Wayne county

    • JimBarth

      My computer froze…in closing, “In summary, a heck of a lot more serious study should be performed before an article is written that implies that 65% of private water wells in Wayne County are contaminated with “some level of detectable methane”.”

    • AlSever

      Yes, but if there was a gas well in either county, you would be blaming it for these wells having methane!

      • JimBarth

        There are production wells in Wayne County, over in the Susquehanna Basin sliver of the County, probably not too many. There were about 5 “exploratory” wells drilled in Wayne County (Delaware River Basin portion), starting up near Hancock, and proceeding along the Delaware down to Damascus Township. Continuing in the DRB portion, there was the Robson Test well in Oregon Township that Chesapeake drilled in 2009, and there was the Stone Energy well that was drilled on the Matoushek property back in June of 2008, that the DRBC prevented being fracked. It was drilled in violation of then DRBC rules, without DRBC permits. All these wells were vertical, but don’t forget that the Dimock 9 square mile contaminating Cabot wells drilled were vertical, and had not been fracked.
        How long did you work for PA DEP Mr. Sever, and, when did you retire? Any other thoughts about what I might or might not do?

        • AlSever

          Immolation by using natural gas would be a nice gesture! a great way to prove that you are really serious and not just making noise!

    • FrackDaddy

      Wow, you are trying very hard to dismiss this study! Does it threaten your lies and fear mongering?

      • JimBarth

        You wrote to Dean Marshall above: “Dean, why do you feel the need to call names, and insult people? That seems to be a very common thing with folks like you? ”
        Yet here, you immediately follow by calling me a liar and a fear mongerer.
        “Folks like you” (as you wrote), have no shame. Is it because you write under an anonymous “FrackDaddy”, and feel invisible, part of the fracking mob mentality? Does it make you feel stronger and safer when you insult people?
        Did you bother to actually read what I had originally written about the report, as described in this article?

        • FrackDaddy

          Jim, the difference is You ARE a liar and fear monger! Dean, Just called him an Idiot, Moron, Because 1) He is not smart enough to make a true rebuttal or 2) he knows nothing about the subject. But you side approves of this kind tactic and encourages it. And no Jim, I AM forced to use a screen name because you and your group, have threatened me, my property, and have taken it out on my young children.
          But, i dont expect you to understand. Your more into the self promotion.

          I will make you a challenge you can never do? I dare you to live the way you claim is right? Please go a week, a month, a year with out using any NG or FF Products! The point is you can’t, And you wont! So you are no different than an 800lb man, telling the benefits of Salad and exercise while you shove Big Mac’s in your face on your couch you have not left for months!

          But please keep sticking up for Putin (i am sure the Ukraine thanks you), Or the Middle East (Sharia Law sounds fun). But i think with IL the count is up to 33 state’s and none have stopped for any reason! And ever Germany and passed Frac’n regs, Since they found the cant live on renewables………

          • JimBarth

            You are a moral coward who will make up any reason to not post under your real name, while you hide, with rage and contempt, calling people like me a liar and fear monger.
            What “group” is mine? How have I threatened you, your property, your children, all of whom I could not care less about.
            You make everything personal, and you insult people, and you hide while doing it. You know nothing about me, so you make things up. This is exactly what I have been facing for the past 6 years from anonymous fracker apologists such as you, and, you should all be ashamed of yourselves.
            The second half of your post is just plain stupidity. Your post is exactly why you are anonymous. No one with an ounce of self respect would want to be identified with it.

  • Tom

    So my guess is since theres methane in the water its OK to make it worse or undrinkable.

  • George Wythe

    If methane is in any water-well, it would be intelligent to let it vent into the air and disperse. Believing it makes water ‘undrinkable’, is not true.
    Methane has no demonstrable toxicity other than being a simple asphyxiant.

    • JimBarth

      Methane migration into your home through your source of well water, and surrounding soil, is not a minor issue, depending upon the concentration, and your guaranteed (or lack of guarantee), to be able to control the amount that is migrating into your water and surrounding soil. It would be a “forever” project even If you have a low, “manageable” concentration, and no external driver that exacerbates the condition. On the other hand, if shale gas extraction moves into your area, you might be blown to bits before you “simply asphyxiate”.
      Who wants to be placed into the position of having elevated levels of methane where the elevated levels did not exist before? Who wants to be forced to seriously vent and monitor such elevated levels that get created by the shale gas extraction process? How does suffering through such a condition impact the value of your house, and your emotional, mental and physical health?
      Is it really only methane that you have to constantly monitor, or, are there other chemicals, and toxic substances that might migrate in higher concentrations? Nothing about this scenario is simple, or acceptable, if it has been exacerbated by the shale gas extraction industry, which is inevitable, if it were to move into your area.

      • George Wythe

        Your correct, methane migration in a home depends on the concentration, and the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in these counties.

        I don’t know anyone who has ever been “blown to bits” anywhere in this country from shale gas extraction. I understand how someone as ignorant as you would fear natural gas, hopefully you’ll gain a little common sense about how gas is extracted and shipped by pipelines, although I have my doubts about that.

        Not many in PA or the other states are against natural gas as you are. Many know for a fact that solar and wind are overly expensive and will take up millions of acres to provide power to our northeastern US, as well as power lines to connect them all, when it’s quite doubtful they will provide nearly enough power all the time. They certainly won’t fuel transportation of large vehicles, at least not anytime soon.

        No one willing to allow a well to be drilled, will expect elevated levels of methane, it will be checked and maintained should it happen, which isn’t very likely. But since it is extracting methane, it needs to be constantly checked and watched, which it does.

        Hopefully , by the end of this year, NY will allow our drilling to start finally and Steve Tambini will stop the DRBC’s current foolish moratorium.

        Feel free to run your stupidity now, and try and destroy our natural gas support in this area, we all know how foolish you are and fully expect your idiotic statements, until we have drilled and are enjoying gas wells their use and profits, then we will be so happy to completely ignore you!

        • JimBarth

          Of course you like to call me ignorant, and, I’m very happy that you don’t know anyone who was killed or injured in house explosions caused by migrating gas, either from active wells, or abandoned ones, but, that does not mean by a long shot that it hasn’t happened, rather, it is reflective of your lack of desire to investigate anything that contradicts your, I’m sorry to say, ignorant opinions. The first two links I am providing to you are virtually impeccable. The third, whether the explosions were caused by active drilling, or abandoned wells, either source shows stray gas migration to be the cause. This list of links was gathered in about 5 minutes, in an internet search. How lazy, how indoctrinated, how “zealous” are you in defense of your beloved shale gas extraction?

          Why don’t you also call Fred Baldassare, the former PA Dep investigator who was involved in some of these examples?

          • George Wythe

            No one has ever said natural gas or methane, is not dangerous. It is explosive and usually a vapor. Obviously it needs to be watched out for and preferably controlled.

            You never told me what you would like to see instead of natural gas, the cleanest energy we have, other than perhaps nuclear, to supply our current needs for everything we need supply of. I know the slim percentage of wind & solar aren’t nearly enough. What else would you say we should have?

          • JimBarth

            You, and plenty of your anonymous colleagues, have said exactly that, methane migration is not dangerous. As for the energy solution of the future, this is not a forum for that, and for me to discuss that issue with a volatile, anonymous, pen named person such as yourself, is a waste of my time. This article, and thread, is about methane migration, and the recent USGS report on Wayne and Pike Counties. Why don’t you answer my response to your assertion at the bottom of this thread, that Wayne has not been drilled and hydraulically fracked? Stick to the topic.

          • George Wythe

            I’ve never said methane migration is not dangerous, of course it can be. It simply is not always caused by gas drilling, it can be naturally occurring, as it has been for the most part.

            As for Wayne & Pike counties, I haven’t heard any in there at all, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a couple on the western side of Wayne.
            The USGS stated “None of the wells tested in either study were located near currently producing natural gas wells.” So it’s pretty obvious that none caused the methane they reported.

            As for your solution on US power supply, it’s quite obvious you have no answer for it, which is why you try and avoid it. We all know, at least any with intelligence know, that wind & solar power might be helpful in smaller areas but not even close enough for the northeastern US. Also, everyone with any sense knows natural gas is without a doubt the cleanest supply of power currently on our planet, which we have a very large amount of.

          • DeanMarshall
          • George Wythe

            Sure, how many crops will we need to grow to supply ALL our country’s energy needs? What about the food we eat, will that take the place of growing it? What will happen if we get floods or droughts?
            Biomass is a great source of energy, but it’s as small as wind and solar to provide energy for this country. Natural gas is far ahead.

          • DeanMarshall

            You onviously didn’t read the article. You can read …. ? As far as your moronic question, this is just one of many sources of Green Energy that WILL replace filthy fossil fuel world wide. Add to the mix, Wind, Solar, Geo-therm, Hydro/ Wave kinetics and steady increase in plug in vehicles and mass transit investments, and the need for Coal, Oil and Gas will decline to pre-Industrial Age levels.

          • George Wythe

            Well good luck, I think your dreaming. Wind & solar supply about 1% of energy in our part of the country. Switching vehicles over to geo-therm takes a lot of inventing, we need large trucks & equipment not tiny little ass-bag cars you probably drive.

          • DeanMarshall

            You really are un-informed George Wythe! Bio-mass fuels will replace diesel for large trucks. The grouping I listed that included Geo-therm is for Electricity production and heating for for homes and commercial bldg.’s. By the way, I traded in my 4WD Truck for a Prius Hatchback that gets 300% better MPG and thus creates 300% LESS pollution than the gas guzzler You likely drive. You see, it is up to everyone to conserve and invest in small or great means to clean up or environment, use energy and consumer goods more responsibly, and support and invest in transition away from the addiction to dirty energy! You sir, are using a ficticious name and merely working for the industry as a PR propagandist. (A poor one at that)

          • George Wythe

            Bio-mass fuel will power large trucks, but producing it is the problem. Where could we grow all this fuel? I know a man who buys fat from local fast food places nearby to get bio for his pick-up. He takes a lot of it and gets a little. I don’t ever see it happening, I think your dreaming. As for you trading in you 4×4 for a Prius, that’s great, as long as all you need is transportation for you, but obviously not very good to carry any equipment for work.
            Many, if not most people don’t share your belief that it’s up to everyone to invest in small means, use energy more responsibly or support any transition from fuels in our planet.
            One large step down on fuel, from coal, petroleum’s, etc., to natural gas, is a great step to starting to ‘clean our planet’.
            As for me using a fictitious name and a propagandist for any industry, your as wrong as Barth is, perhaps your him?

          • FrackDaddy

            Mathalete? If your truck got 1 MPG, that means your Prius gets 300 MPG! Uhhh, seems a little off, dont yea think?

          • FrackDaddy

            Dean, Why do you feel the need to call names, and insult people? That seems to be a very common thing with folks like you? George asked some very important questions, But you cant seem to be bothered by facts…lol

            You should lead the way and give up all things FF! Until you do, You are part of your own problem, not the solution.

      • FrackDaddy

        Jim, Us folks here in NEPA have been dealing with this for decades. I have had a vent on my well since it was drilled (By my Parents) in 1981. Lots of people around here do and have long before shale drilling.
        All you talk about are, just that talking points, none of which have or will come true! But it seems in a strange way folks like wish bad things on people, in hopes you can you do the “Look at me, i told you so”. But if you talk to the people who have lived here for generations, they are all in favor! Thats why you have to bus people in form Philly, NYC, Ithaca for your protests. Because the people who live it, know what really happens.

  • Erik Latranyi

    JimBarth – You sound a bit hysterical. Methane is naturally occurring in some water wells. It is a known FACT. This study shows that water wells that are not near any fracked well have been found to contain methane.
    What does this tell us?
    First, it tells us that a lot of people are drinking water that might not meet current standards and do not know it because they have never, ever tested their well.
    Second, it tells us that baseline testing is critical!!!! (Oh, that is the law now in PA)
    Third, do water wells get contaminated sometimes from nearby activities? Yes, of course. Which is why #2 is so important!!!!!!
    Get your water well tested ASAP!
    Do not rely on the hysteria of others or the words of the Oil & Gas industry…..collect your own FACTS.

    • JimBarth

      So, should I reply that you sound a bit idiotic to be describing me as a bit hysterical? Should I reply that you sound remarkably arrogant to be lecturing me about the importance of gathering baseline information on methane migration when Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has been boots on the ground on this issue for at least the last four years, and paying for baseline studies to be performed across several Townships in PA and NYS?
      Why on earth would you think that I don’t believe that baseline studies are critical, when I have been pushing for them for years?
      Rather, I wrote that the USGS report, as described in this article, tells us remarkably little of use, to put it mildly. I wrote that the article lacks definition of the terms, and context that would provide insight. Read my initial comment from two days ago, that begins “Unfortunately”. The last sentence of your post is ignorant, and, offensive. Lecture yourself, and spare me.

      • FrackDaddy

        AHH, The classic, 1) Insult 2) The “I am better/smarter than you card 3) Complete lack of facts and references. You must have got a Gold star for The Sierra Club on that one!

    • FrackDaddy

      Well (Pun Intended) Said.

  • NorthernTier

    “None of the water tested in these two studies exceeded the Pennsylvania
    Department of Environmental Resources action level of 7 milligrams per
    liter for methane in well water.” – USGS

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »