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Ohio Utica Shale

U.S. Geological Survey issues response to earlier blog post

By Bob Downing Published: October 27, 2012

The U.S. Geological Survey issued the following response in connection with on erlier post of this blog about radon levels in natural gas samples from Pennsylvania in an article by Dr. Marvin Resnikoff.

From the federal agency:

Pasted below and attached is information from E.L. Rowan, the lead author of the USGS report Radon-222 Content of Natural Gas Samples from Upper and Middle Devonian Sandstone and Shale Reservoirs in Pennsylvania: Preliminary Data.


Recently, an item from Dr. Resnikoff’s consulting company (RWMA) newsletter (“Has the USGS been Co-opted”) was posted on this website, unfortunately without checking the information presented. The piece refers to a 2012 USGS report on the radon content of natural gas samples from Pennsylvania. The USGS publishes thousands of scientific studies every year, each undergoing a rigorous review and approval process, including strict peer-reviews, and this report was no exception. The piece by Dr. Resnikoff contains several points that appear to be based on misinterpretation of a telephone conversation, and these points are clarified below.

1. The wells that we sampled were originally selected for a study unrelated to radon, and thus the selection was made with no consideration for the radon content of the gas. There was no attempt, or even opportunity, for the operator to influence our results through the selection of wells, as was suggested. The radon measurements made by us were complementary to ongoing USGS studies of the chemistry of water produced from oil and gas wells generally.

2. It is not uncommon for the USGS to include data from proprietary sources in our studies. We do not release confidential or proprietary information, nor do we release unpublished information, and therefore declined Dr. Resnikoff’s request for more detailed information about the wells. Our published material, however, is equally available to everyone.

3. Our recent report contained data from three wells producing from the Marcellus Shale, and eight wells producing gas from shallower Upper Devonian sandstone gas reservoirs. The wells were thoroughly investigated by us, and we have multiple, independent means of determining the producing interval. However, a portion of the material we examined, including well logs, is likely to remain proprietary.

4. No pressure was brought to bear from any source to release the report. The “preliminary” nature of the report refers to the relatively small number of samples in the data set. The USGS tries to balance responsiveness and prompt release of data into the public domain with the slower, methodical approach of accumulating results that lead to publication of an interpretive paper. Our report was released to make available a small, but sound, set of measurements that appear to be the only such data currently published for the Appalachian Basin, and that should help inform the discussion of radon in natural gas.

5. Our report contains no inconsistency with the earlier USGS report by Leventhal et al. (1981). We report different elements (radon vs. uranium) in different media (wellhead gas vs. solid phases in shale), and the samples are from different locations. Dr. Resnikoff’s comment that the current USGS report is at odds with a previous USGS report that does not contain radon analyses simply does not make sense.

6. Neither are the radon measurements we report at variance with those in the EPA report (Johnson et al., 1973, EPA-520/1-73-004,Table 1), including the single high value in the Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma group. The overall average of 37 pCi/L for eight groups of data in Johnson et al. (1973), are consistent with our measured range of 1-79 pCi/L.

E. L. Rowan, Ph.D.
U.S. Geological Survey

Reston, VA




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