METHANE IN WATER
Methane gas has migrated into aquifers in Colorado as a result of fracking.
Many people in Colorado can light their tap water on fire because it contains methane gas that suddenly appeared after fracking happened nearby.
According to COGCC, that isn't enough to prove it was caused by drilling because a distinction is made between biogenic and thermogenic natural gas.
Biogenic gas is created by decomposing organic material and is found in pockets close to the surface.
Thermogenic gas is created by intense pressure in underground rock formations and can come only from deeper layers. The difference can be determined by isotopic tests that fingerprint the gas.
But identifying the type of gas doesn't explain how it migrated into the aquifer. It also doesn’t mean it wasn't caused by drilling. People are intensely frustrated that COGCC didn't do any real hydro-geologic surveying to determine how the gas got into the water supply before they ruled it had nothing to do with gas drilling.
Oil industry veteran James Northrup states in an interview that additional well casings won't prevent methane from coming up out of the ground. It can take years for it to happen, but the gas comes up on the outside of the outermost casing. Even abandoned gas wells will continue to leak methane.
COGCC regulation 608 b(3) ...If the test results indicate biogenic gas, no further isotopic testing shall be done. If the test results indicate thermogenic or a mixture of thermogenic and biogenic gas, then the operator shall submit to the Director an action plan to determine the source of the gas. If the methane concentration increases by more than five (5) mg/l between sampling periods, or increases to more than ten (10) mg/l, the operator shall notify the Director and the owner of the water well immediately.
Methane causes fires and explosions
Methane gas becomes dangerous when it evaporates out of the water and into peoples' homes because it's flammable. See Explosions and fires.
Health effects of methane
Drinking water with methane, the largest component of natural gas, isn't necessarily harmful. The gas itself isn't toxic -- the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't even regulate it -- and it escapes from water quickly, like bubbles in a soda.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated residents' complaints of dizziness, blacking out, rashes, swelling of legs and elevated blood pressure related to exposure to methane through bathing, dishwashing and drinking. That study concluded that "combustible gases, including methane, in private well water present an urgent public health hazard."
Methane can suffocate those who breathe it. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as the concentration of gas increases it can cause headaches, then nausea, brain damage and eventually death.
Garfield County Hydrogeologic Study links methane to drilling
The three-year study conducted in Garfield County, Colorado concluded in 2009 that gas drilling has degraded water in dozens of water wells. It used sophisticated scientific techniques to match methane from water to the same rock layer -- a mile and a half underground -- where gas companies are drilling.
It examined over 700 methane samples from 292 locations and found that methane, as well as wastewater from the drilling, was making its way into drinking water not as a result of a single accident but on a broader basis.
As the number of gas wells in the area increased from 200 to 1,300 in this decade, methane levels in nearby water wells increased too. The study found that natural faults and fractures exist in underground formations in Colorado, and that it may be possible for contaminants to travel through them.
The scientists didn't determine which gas wells caused the problem or say exactly how the gas reached the water, but they indicated that a system of interconnected natural fractures and faults could stretch from deep underground gas layers to the surface.
Conditions that could be responsible include "vertical upward flow" "along natural open-fracture pathways or pathways such as well-bores or hydraulically-opened fractures," states the section of the report done by S.S. Papadopulos and Associates, a Maryland-based environmental engineering firm specializing in groundwater hydrology.
The researchers did not conclude that gas and fluids were migrating directly from the deep pockets of gas the industry was extracting. In fact, they said it was more likely that the gas originated from a weakness somewhere along the well's structure.
"One thing that is most striking is in the area where there are large vertical faults you see a much higher instance of water wells being affected," said Geoffrey Thyne, the hydrogeologist who wrote the report's summary and conclusion. He is a senior research scientist at the University of Wyoming's Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, a pro-extraction group dedicated to tapping into hard-to-reach energy reserves.
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