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Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: Pennsylvania DEP Finds No Link Between Hydraulic Fracturing and Methane Contamination

By Armando F. Benincasa, Brian J. Pulito and Thomas J. Sengewalt

After a 16-month investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced Monday that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas by WPX Energy, Inc. was not responsible for methane contamination in three private water wells in Susquehanna County.

Following the filing of complaints by local landowners that methane resulting from natural gas exploration in the area had contaminated their drinking water wells, the agency undertook an investigation to determine the source of the methane. The agency compared samples taken from each of the water wells to samples of natural gas taken from WPX's fracing wells. It also compared the well water samples to water taken from wells at Salt Springs State Park, which were also known to contain methane and which were in the same vicinity of the wells in question.

The investigation found that the methane contained in the water wells did not match the chemical makeup of natural gas samples taken from WPX rigs located nearby and, therefore, the methane gas in the wells did not originate from the wells drilled by WPX. But the agency did find that the methane found in the private water wells did match methane found in water samples taken in nearby Salt Springs State Park containing a similar isotopic makeup.

Also, after a comparison with the samples from the rig, the DEP noted similarities in the water chemistry of water samples taken from wells near a mobile home park that had to abandon its water supply in 1998 due to naturally occurring methane contamination.

The DEP concluded that the methane found in the water samples did not have the same origin as the natural gas in the nearby gas wells.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this alert, please feel free to contact Steptoe & Johnson. 

Armando Benincasa concentrates his practice in the areas of energy law, environmental law, environmental litigation, administrative law and government affairs and lobbying. Tom Sengewalt focuses his practice in the areas of energy and business litigation. Tom also serves as a member of the Steptoe & Johnson Oil and Gas Emergency Response Team, assisting clients immediately when disaster strikes. Brian Pulito focuses his practice in the areas of civil litigation, construction litigation, oil, gas and mineral law litigation, and intellectual property law litigation.

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