COOPERSTOWN — Supporters of allowing horizontal hydraulic fracturing for shale gas are basking in a “we told you so” moment after a study by Pennsylvania state officials found gas drilling was not to blame for high methane levels in three families’ well water.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection concluded that the samples taken from private water wells in Franklin Forks, Pa., “ contained gas of similar isotopic makeup to the gas in the water samples taken from Salt Springs State Park.”
Some residents of the town had linked the fouling of their well water to gas wells in the area. But the Pennsylvania officials said there had been no baseline testing at those homes — samples taken before drilling began — and the samples showed the gas in the private wells “was not of the same origin” as the natural gas in nearby gas wells.
Tom Shepstone, of the pro-drilling group Energy In Depth, said the claims linking the well pollution to drilling were trumped up to bolster litigation against a gas company.
“We feel this is an important vindication, but we’re not surprised that this occurred,” said Shepstone, saying local residents have known for years that the methane level was high in the water in that area. “You could go up to Salt Spring State Park and light the spring on fire. I’ve done it myself.”
Ronald Bishop, a State University College at Oneonta geology professor who has called for the continuation of New York’s moratorium on hydrofracking, said the conclusions reached in Pennsylvania underscore the fact that “it’s never a good time to assume.”
Bishop also said the turn of events puts the spotlight on the importance of homeowners in areas where gas drilling could commence to obtain baseline tests of their water quality, so in the event the water is contaminated there’s evidence that the problem occurred after drilling took place.