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Methane bubbling in Fish Creek

October 17, 2010

CAMERON - When Jeremiah Magers moved his family into new home along Fish Creek in Marshall County last year, he had no idea his drinking water well would soon be contaminated by methane.

Magers now believes the methane in his well - in addition to some gas found bubbling up in the stream - has been released because of Marcellus Shale natural gas activity at a nearby Chesapeake Energy drilling site.

"As soon as they 'fracked' those gas wells, that's when my water well started getting gas in it," Magers said regarding the process of hydraulic fracturing that drillers use to break the underground rocks to release the natural gas.

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Amid confirmed reports of drilling-related explosions, fires and gas leaks throughout Marshall County during the past few months, Magers now believes fracturing is responsible for making his water well useless.

"It is about 1,200 feet from their gas wells to my water well," he said. "I am right across the creek from that drilling site. ... I first noticed it when we ran out of water. When I looked down the well, I could see the bubbling."

In addition to plugging up his water well, Magers said the methane can sometimes be seen bubbling up in the creek. He made a video of the bubbling, while also holding a flame against portions of the creek bank to check for flaring.

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"Somebody's got to do something about this," he said.

Magers said he called the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas to investigate the problem. Office Chief James Martin said his department has investigated Magers' problems.

"We have been to his residence. Comparisons were made between different water samples," Martin said, noting he cannot yet pinpoint the cause of the methane release.

Faced with these continuing problems, Magers hired Moundsville attorney Eric Gordon, who then employed an Elkins, W.Va., firm by the name of EEI Geophysical Earth Science Consultants to investigate his environment.

Magers said an oil and gas official told him the release of the methane was probably due to coal mining that had taken place in the area. However, the report compiled and signed by EEI Adjuster John Hempel notes that it is, "unlikely that the mining taking place 3,500 feet from the emission point has in any way caused the migration, or the generation of the gas being emitted from the Magers' water well."

"The contamination of the Magers' well may come directly from the production of the oil and gas around the home," Hempel's assessment continues.

"It is also unlikely that mining could have caused the bubbling up of methane in Fish Creek ... ," Hempel's report adds.

On the final page of the report, Hempel wrote, "It is likely that he cause of the gas venting at this home originates either with the new oil and gas drilling around the home, or from gas escaping from the Columbia Gas storage field."

A Columbia official was unable to comment regarding the potential of the gas being released from the field last week.

Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is investigating Chesapeake for reports of bubbling water on the Susquehanna River. However, the wells suspected of leaking the methane had not been fractured before the gas seeped into the water, leading officials to believe the methane is seeping from a more shallow level of ground.

Chesapeake Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak, responding via e-mail, noted Chesapeake has addressed the issues at Magers' property.

"Chesapeake collected water samples from Jeremiah Magers' water source more than a year ago. We let him know that dissolved methane gas was detected in his water sample, and that methane gas may be generated from various sources," Brodak said.

Magers said Chesapeake supplied him with free water from June to August last year when the company was evaluating the methane problem.

"The gave us the free water for a while, but then pulled the tank. Now, I have to buy water and put it in a cistern," he said.

Brodak said Chesapeake withdrew their water supply from Magers' home because, "Our test results, from a third-party lab, indicated that the methane present the water sample did not match the gas from our oil and gas operations."

At this point, Magers wants Chesapeake to help restore his drinking water well, but Brodak denies her company is at fault for his water problems.

"I just want them to fix what they screwed up - all I want is a new water well," he said.

Magers also addressed a problem that he and many other surface property owners in Marshall and Wetzel counties are having. He said because they do not own the mineral rights, the natural gas drilling does nothing for them. Dave McMahon, co-founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization, previously said drillers can do anything "fairly necessary" to extract the minerals, regardless of the surface owners' wishes.

This means while some folks are earning up to $3,600 per leased acre with as much as 18.75 percent of production royalties, residents like Magers are out of luck.

"We aren't getting a thing out of this because we don't own the mineral rights. We just get the headaches from it," he said of the natural gas activity.

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