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Owego Incident Provides Some Schooling on Methane Migration

Methane Migration - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.


Methane migration is a known issue in parts of upstate New York and rural Pennsylvania, but it’s not what you’re thinking.

Imagine, if you will, you received this mailer from a local environmental group, say someone such as the Catskill Mountainkeeper:

Why is New York State still allowing the development of unsafe geothermal energy systems? There are definitive signs geothermal energy development is an extremely risky enterprise prone to cause explosions and ground water contamination. An incident that took place yesterday in Owego, Tioga County, New York  destroyed property and endangered the welfare of elementary school children causing students to have to be dismissed early because of the danger involved.  Isn’t it time we called a halt to this dangerous and destructive process? You can help by donating to our Stop All Geothermal (SAG) Fund.”

The letter is fictional but the methane migration incident on which it is based actually took place.

Owego Experiences A Bit of Methane Migration

Here is the story by Scott Waldman of the Capital blog published out of Albany:

ALBANY—A crew drilling on the site of a new school in Owego accidentally hit a pocket of natural gas and caused a fire.

The Owego region is rich in natural gas. It is located on the gas-rich Marcellus Shale where the fracking industry wants to drill gas wells, but is waiting for Governor Andrew Cuomo to lift the five-year moratorium on high-volume hydraulic hydrofracturing.

On Monday, construction crews installing a geothermal heating and cooling system for the Owego Elementary School drilled into the pocket of gas and their rig caught on fire, spokesman Stephen Jensen said. Students were dismissed early and no one was injured.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the drilling of a geothermal well intended to provide renewable energy is portrayed as a simple accident where no one was injured? Now, imagine if the well being drilled had been a natural gas well.  Just think about it.

You know the answer. The Catskill Mountainkeeper would have already issued a letter much like the one above, asking repeatedly for donations to help stop fracking. The same for Food & Water Watch. The Sustainable Markets Foundation would already be helping to set up a new local “grassroots” campaign vowing to halt the dangerous activity. This picture would be plastered everywhere:

Methane - OwegoDrillingRig

Walter Hang would have used some of that Rockefeller largesse he receives every year to fight fracking to have already published a dozen photos, issued a report documenting the extensive explosions and held three press conferences on the steps of the school to protest the dangerous practice and call for a permanent ban. Newspapers and blogs with fractivist agendas would have issued story after story with screaming headlines about explosions and endangered kids.

Methane Migration Only An Issue Where It Helps Fight Fracking

Yes, things would have been much different had this been a gas well and not a geothermal (renewable energy) well, wouldn’t they? It’s an enlightening moment regarding the way fracking is covered by the media as compared to politically correct renewables. More than that, however, the incident demonstrates exactly what the industry has said for years about methane migration. It’s an existing problem in many areas of New York and Pennsylvania and has been for many decades preceding gas drilling, but guess who gets blamed whenever methane migration occurs?

Who, for example, is there today who is not familiar with the infamous flaming faucet scene in Gasland? Josh Fox fraudulently tried to blame it on hydraulic fracturing, of course, and although Phelim McAleer artfully disposed of that particular accusation, the idea that gas drilling and/or fracking routinely produces firewater persists among activists who wish it to be true. While methane migration can, on rare occasion, be an issue with gas drilling, just as it can be other forms of drilling, it is unrelated to hydraulic fracturing, a point the natural gas industry has made repeatedly but to deaf ears among fractivists. Here is the scene from Truthland, in fact, where a faucet nowhere near any drilling or fracking was set on fire by a gentleman who says he lives by the rule of “never smoking in the shower.”

The Owego incident offers even more compelling evidence of what the industry has been saying from the beginning; there is shallow methane through much of upstate New York and rural Pennsylvania and it can be disturbed by any type of drilling whether it be water well drilling, geothermal well drilling or gas well drilling. These disturbances can result in the shallow methane migrating to the surface or to other unexpected places. But, here’s the important thing; it’s rare and there are standards in place for gas well drilling (e.g., long-standing minimum casing requirements) that simply don’t exist for geothermal, for example. You can read about them here, New York DEC having concluded the following:

The effectiveness of the Department’s well construction approach with respect to gas migration is demonstrated by the rarity of gas migration incidents in New York. The most recent incident occurred 15 years prior to the date of this document, in 1996, and resulted not from well construction but from the operator reacting improperly to a problem encountered while drilling. More than 3,000 wells have been drilled under ECL Article 23 permits since 1996 without another occurrence… methane is naturally present in water wells in many locations in New York, for many reasons unrelated to gas well drilling. This is a fact which must be evaluated and considered when a gas drilling impact is suspected as a source of methane in water wells.

The risks associated with geothermal may well be minimal from a big picture perspective (and we think they are), but the risks are even lower with gas drilling. The Owego geothermal incident has just schooled us all on that fact.

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14 thoughts on “Owego Incident Provides Some Schooling on Methane Migration

  1. Pingback: Marcellus & Utica Shale Story Links: Thu, Feb 13, 2014 | Marcellus Drilling News

  2. This just proves that drilling for NG is a major issue for those living near the drilling areas and it will never be totally safe or predictable due to the drilling process itself .Besides this gas hit was shallow ( biogenic)and not gas from the shale (Thermogenic ) .Any type of drilling can disrupt biogenic gas and other substances and cause migration .No matter how “Green ” the industry tries to make the process .This will always be a factor ….

    • crossing the street “will never be totally safe”
      driving a car “will never be totally safe”
      most people do these things BECAUSE THE REWARD OUTWEIGH THE RISK!!!
      drilling for gas “will never be totally safe” same principle applies..

      • @ Kevin tell that to those that have been affected by the drilling .Oh that right the rewards outweigh the people hurt ,right !! Ignorant comment !

        • @ Bill ,speaking of ignorant comments ! Are you also insinuating that we stop drilling water wells ? geotheral wells ,horizonal boring or vertical boring ? Your still drilling are you not ? Not to mention there is no recoverable gas north of pa border—– are or is this not a reward that outweighs the so called people hurt ?

  3. .Tom good post but in your objectively fictional letter from the mountain creepers you forgot one of their main arguments so I will add it now

    “Governor…. How can we allow geothermal drilling to continue? It is a dirty process where as mother earth is violently raped having that cold steel pipe shoved into her over and over again. She often quakes as the penetrating pipe is driven deep into her. I can feel her pain and hear her moan. Please stop this inherently dangerous process of poking geothermal wells every 1/4 of a mile apart and lead the country in renewables. We can quit farming and convert all state lands into solar farms that will supply NYC with lights during the daylight hours simply by clear-cutting all our trees and putting up row after row of solar panels…

    Thank You
    Energy Deniers

    • Don’t forget, We can’t have the society we do without energy.
      Don’t forget, NG development poses only a minimal, managable risk to water.
      So the benefit outwieghs the risk.
      Don’t forget, while some people might be individually “harmed” by NG development, there are an equal number who would be “harmed” by not developing NG. Where’s your “compassion” for them you hypocrite?!

      • To cdanon76: lol. Cool down. I was responding with a stock Anti phrase we hear over and over here in New Brunswick, Canada. I wrote a whole blog of these stupid “facts” they repeat as their mantra but had to make the blog private after receiving death threats

  4. To Bill “F” – that’s right, place a burden on a process that no other has placed on it – an expectation of perfection and zero risk. What planet did you recently arrive from?

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