Contra Gasland Deception, Colorado Water Always Featured Natural Methane

A couple of years ago the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission debunked major claims of the Gasland anti-industrial propaganda film:

Gasland features three Weld County landowners, Mike Markham, Renee McClure, and Aimee Ellsworth, whose water wells were allegedly contaminated by oil and gas development. The COGCC investigated complaints from all three landowners in 2008 and 2009, and we issued written reports summarizing our findings on each. We concluded that Aimee Ellsworth’s well contained a mixture of biogenic and thermogenic methane that was in part attributable to oil and gas development, and Mrs. Ellsworth and an operator reached a settlement in that case.

However, using the same investigative techniques, we concluded that Mike Markham’s and Renee McClure’s wells contained biogenic gas that was not related to oil and gas activity. Unfortunately, Gasland does not mention our McClure finding and dismisses our Markham finding out of hand. . . .

Laboratory analysis confirmed that the Markham and McClure wells contained biogenic methane typical of gas that is naturally found in the coals of the Laramie–Fox Hills Aquifer. This determination was based on a stable isotope analysis, which effectively “finger-printed” the gas as biogenic, as well as a gas composition analysis, which indicated that heavier hydrocarbons associated with thermogenic gas were absent. In addition, water samples from the wells were analyzed for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX), which are constituents of the hydrocarbons produced by oil and gas wells in the area. The absence of any BTEX compounds in these water samples provided additional evidence that oil and gas activity did not contaminate the Markham and McClure wells.

I have not researched what “part” of the contamination of the Ellsworth well was allegedly “attributable to oil and gas development,” nor what sort of development that was, nor what the settlement was. In general, if there is objective evidence of a tort, the government properly intervenes to protect property rights (in light of any contractual relationships) and ensure just compensation for damages.

To me what is most interesting about the document, though, is that it demonstrates that usually methane in water is attributable to natural causes, not industrial development.

Recently I was talking with my father Linn about this, and he shared some anecdotes buttressing this fact:

Your great-grandfather Glenn Linn owned land south of Collbran, Colorado, until around 1963. As a child I spent many summers on this ranch. Of course, I have many fond memories spent in the mountains and one of the exciting memories is when we crossed the small stream running in front of the cabin Glenn would throw a match into the stream. A loud roar would ensue from the surface gas exploding.

In the 1960s the surface gas near The DeBeque bridge was very useful to the ranchers. In the cold winter the ice would freeze on the river which would force the ranchers to chop ice in order for the livestock to drink. Those lucky ranchers who had access to the river near the surface gas simply had to light the gas which kept the water clear of ice. Ranchers and cattle were both happy.

Your grandfather Otto Armstrong related that the train would stop just past the town of DeBeque so that the passengers see a geyser raise several feet into the air caused by surface gas. This must have been a great spectacle with the train engines of the 1920s and 30s bellowing smoke and a geyser spouting water feet into the air.

But we all know what’s going on here. The anti-industrial environmentalists will damn any sort of energy development that alters the natural environment in any way, no matter how much energy production contributes to human life and flourishing. And they’re not about to let the facts get in the way.

Image: Creative Commons by Tim Hurst