Methane in the water wells of a Pennsylvania town visited by Yoko Ono in her campaign against hydraulic fracturing wasn’t caused by drilling for natural gas nearby, the state environmental regulator said.
In the northeastern town of Franklin Forks, samples from three private water wells are comparable in their chemical makeup to the natural spring at a nearby park where methane had been detected long before fracking began in the area, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Testing also determined that the gas in the water samples taken from the private water wells wasn’t of the same origin as that in the nearby gas wells, the department said in a statement yesterday.
“We’re pleased that a science-based, fact-finding effort by the state definitively showed that our operations were not responsible for methane migration issues,” Susan Oliver, a spokeswoman for WPX Energy Inc., a driller that some residents have blamed for polluting their water, said in an e-mailed statement.
The debate in Franklin Forks, just 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) from the New York line, has drawn visitors. Officials, citizens, scientists and lawyers from New York, which is considering ending a de facto moratorium on fracking, visit in droves. Ono came on a bus trip with her son, Sean Lennon, actress Susan Sarandon and anti-fracking filmmaker Josh Fox in January.
One resident, Tammy Manning, isn’t convinced by the state’s conclusions. She has sued WPX, saying her water woes began only after the fracking for natural gas nearby. She said her legal case against the company will continue.
“There are still far more questions than there are answers,” Manning, who contends the methane in her home’s well caused dangerous accumulations of gas inside her house, said in an interview. “Even if it migrated” from the park spring, “why did it migrate into all of our wells at exactly the same time?”
The battle over fracking pits Manning, who spoke at a rally of fracking opponents outside an industry conference in Philadelphia in September, against Shelly DePue, who has four gas wells on her farm west of town and starred in an industry- funded film, “Truthland,” made to defend the industry.
Other visitors to the area have included film crews and citizens from South Africa, Poland, France and Canada. They often take a bus tour across the region, including stops at the Manning home.
The use of horizontal drilling and fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart rock formations and free trapped gas, has led to a surge in natural-gas production in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation.
The state had ordered WPX to test water sources in town and vent four wells that had high levels of methane, the key constituent of natural gas.
The company maintains that the isotopic signature of the gas, which scientists use as a kind of fingerprinting method, was similar to that found in nearby Salt Springs park.