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Environment & Energy

The '10 Commandments' of Drilling

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed in July that drilling in Dimock, Susquehanna County had caused methane to migrate into groundwater in that community.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, there have been 41,000 wells drilled in the state over the past twelve years—oil, traditional gas and Marcellus Shale. 

One of the nation’s leading researchers on drilling and fracking says residents in Butler County and other communities in southwestern Pennsylvania could face similar troubles.  “One of the most serious threats [from Marcellus Shale gas development] is “from leaking wells—wells that leak hydrocarbons or other liquids into underground sources of drinking water,” says Anthony Ingraffea, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University.

Ingraffea spoke Thursday evening at Butler County Community College about the potential impact of drilling in that county and across the state.  “Since many people in that area [Butler] are on private drinking water wells, the incidence rate of contamination of those wells continues to rise.”

He says that wells that start to leak “sometimes can be repaired, sometimes cannot be repaired.”     Ingraffea says “plugging” wells—stopping production and pouring concrete inside the well’s casing…..can work if the leak is coming from within the casing.  If the leak is outside the casing, other procedures can be used to stop the leak “but those methods work only 50 percent of the time,” according to Ingraffea  and “they are very expensive.”

Ingraffea says drilling and fracking are often mistakenly linked as one and that causes “confusion” for the public and policy makers.  He says that the drilling process itself, even before the hydraulic fluids are sent down the shaft, can cause the migration of hydrocarbons into groundwater.

So, if drilling is to continue, how can it be made as safe as possible?  Ingraffea suggests imposing the “10 Commandments” of drilling.  “Thou shall not, and if you do, here is the proportional punishment.”