Research will study origins of methane contamination, impact of science on public policy
A multi-disciplinary team of Temple University researchers will investigate the origins of methane gas found in drinking water wells near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania and how science is influencing the formation of public policy on drilling. The research is being funded through a one-year, $66,000 multi-disciplinary grant from the William Penn Foundation.
A recent study by researchers at Duke University showed that drinking wells located near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Susquehanna County, Pa., had an average concentration of methane gas that was 17 times greater than wells not near drilling sites. The study also concluded that the methane had originated deep below the earth’s surface.
Michel Boufadel, professor of environmental engineering and director of the Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection (NRDP), is principal investigator for the Temple project. He said that the process used to drill into the shale creates enormous pressure that could be forcing pockets of methane toward the drinking water wells. Temple’s research will attempt to determine if the methane gas found in the wells was released from the shale during drilling or whether it was located in pockets closer to the surface.
If the methane is originating in the upper formations, the likely cause is the drilling operation or the well casing construction, issues that could be addressed at a reasonable cost, said Boufadel. However, if the gas is originating in the deep formation, the entire hydrofracking process could be considered hazardous and would need to be stopped or dramatically modified, he said.
Michele Masucci, associate professor and chair of geography and urban studies in the College of Liberal Arts, and Nicholas Davatzes, assistant professor of earth and environmental science in the College of Science and Technology, will serve as co-investigators on the research project to be conducted by NRDP.
Boufadel said Masucci, a social scientist, will explore how the science of the Marcellus Shale drilling is reaching policy makers and how they are processing it and using it to formulate public policy on the extraction of gas from the Marcellus Shale.
Davatzes, a structural geologist who has conducted research on energy from deep geo-thermal wells, will play a crucial role in constructing the geology of the impacted region, Boufadel said.
In addition to the research, the grant requires Temple to organize a symposium on Marcellus Shale, which will be held in the fall.