July 13, 2016
Researchers at the University of Colorado recently released a study that examined more than 25 years’ worth of ground water testing in Colorado, seeking to determine the sources of methane in the ground water supplies. Their findings clearly show that oil and gas development has little to no effect on the levels of methane in groundwater supplies.
Most of us in Colorado have seen the footage of a couple lighting their kitchen faucet on fire—a somewhat disturbing image made famous by an anti-oil and gas documentary. This phenomenon is made possible by a higher concentration of methane in the water supply, and of course the documentary blames it on the presence of oil and gas development in the area. (Note: this documentary has been proven to be full of false and misleading information)
The CU study proves what study after study has already shown… that when done properly and according to Colorado’s strictest-in-the-nation regulations, oil and gas development poses no threat to the state’s water table.
But there is still methane in the water. Is it dangerous?
Methane has existed in water supplies since the beginning of time. Americans first discovered methane in their water supplies back in the 1800s, long before fracking ever existed.
There is an abundance of methane that occurs naturally on earth. Many people believe that livestock are the largest emitters of methane on Earth, but they are actually second. Wetlands are first, followed by livestock, energy, burning biomass, landfills, waste treatment, the oceans and termites. Any plant or animal matter that decays produces methane.
The vast majority of methane found in water supplies comes from shallow coal seams. There is no way to prevent methane from migrating from these coal seams into water supplies, especially in states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania where there is an abundance of coal.
And it’s not really a big deal.
Methane is not known to be toxic to humans in any way. In fact, the only ways methane can hurt humans is by displacing oxygen, or by exploding in high concentrations. If, by unfortunate circumstance, there is a methane leak in someone’s home that goes unrecognized, they will not suffer from any kind of toxicity, but rather will begin to suffocate due to lack of oxygen. Methane can also combust in high concentrations.
The bottom line
Oil and gas development is a negligible factor in methane concentrations in the water, and regardless of the source, it does not pose a major health risk.