U.S. District Court Judge: No Proof Fracking caused Methane Contamination in Nine Homeowner Drinking Water Supplies in Southern Tier, New York

Judge: No Proof of Contamination in Southern Tier Fracking Lawsuit by The Warner Cable News, December 29, 2014
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A U.S. District Court Judge in Rochester ruled several Southern Tier homeowners failed to prove their drinking water was contaminated by fracking wells. The nine home owners filed suit against a Denver based drilling company that placed two gas wells about a half mile from homes in Chemung County. The plaintiffs claimed silt and methane from the gas wells contaminated the ground water. They had sought $2 billion in damages.

According to court documents, the DEC inspected water wells in the Town of Big Flats more than 50 times during drilling, and found no violations. Methane was found in some of the water supply, but was not placed there by gas wells.

The Cuomo administration announced a decision earlier this month to ban shale gas fracking in New York. [Emphasis added]

How not to win a Fracking Lawsuit by Chip Northrup, December 29, 2014, No Fracking Way

Judge: No Proof Gas Drilling Tainted Well Water By Mary Esch, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – A federal judge has ruled against nine southern New York homeowners who claimed their drinking water was contaminated by a nearby natural gas well. U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa in Rochester decided the homeowners had failed to prove the silt and methane that befouled their water was caused by one of two gas wells drilled a half mile from their homes in 2010. The decision was filed on Dec. 17.

The homeowners had sought $2 billion in damages from Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. (These same homeowners had been forced into the well with Anschutz by compulsory integration – so fracked twice. …)

Bonnie Todd of Horseheads, one of the homeowners, said Monday she was unaware a decision had been made. New York City personal injury law firm Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, which represented the homeowners, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Nor did a spokesman for Anschutz.

The wells drilled in the Trenton-Black River sandstone formation in Chemung County, near the Pennsylvania border, weren’t hydraulically fractured, or fracked, a technology that injects a well with chemically treated water and sand to fracture shale and release trapped gas.The Cuomo administration announced a decision earlier this month to ban shale gas development using high-volume fracking, citing a lack of definitive studies of potential health risks. (Fracked shale gas wells are 10X more likely to contaminate water)

According to court documents, Joseph Yarosz of the Department of Environmental Conservation inspected the two Anschutz wells in the town of Big Flats more than 50 times during construction. He testified in his deposition that Anschutz complied with all permit conditions.

After the first gas well was completed, several homeowners complained to the county health department about muddiness and methane in their water wells. Testing confirmed the water contained methane, the main component of natural gas. But experts hired by Anschutz said laboratory analysis demonstrated the methane in the water didn’t originate in the geological formation nearly two miles deep that was tapped by the gas wells.

The target was the Trenton BlackRiver, which is a very deep dolomite formation (not shale). If the gas in the well water did not come from the Trenton Black River target then that does not mean that drilling did not cause the turbidity in the water and mobilize biogenic gas into the drinking water.

It probably did, so drilling the well bore ruined their water. But the homeowner could not prove that – because they had no lab reports on their water prior to drilling.  

Absent a prior-drilling water sample, they had to prove that the methane came from the target formation – the Trenton Black River dolomite. 

Linsa Collart of the DEC said the well water problems were more likely associated with seasonal low-water levels in an aquifer where shallow pockets of naturally occurring gas were known to occur. This is of course total speculation on her part. Drilling the well probably mobilized the contaminants into the ground water. 

[Reality Check for the DEC:

1993 Husky definition gas migration in oil and gas wells

Husky 1993 reports: “Gas migration has received increasing attention in recent years … industry and regulators have become more cognizant [of] the problem, in terms of the numbers of wells affected, the potential cost to address the problems and the technical difficulty of completely stopping the leakage … the expected costs to eliminate gas migration are $300,000 per site overall.”

Husky reported that “roughly half the wells” in the area they studied were affected but “little consistent data was obtained with respect to the causes of the problem or what might be done about it … a technical solution which totally eliminates the problem may never be possible.” Husky asked if part of the gas migration is caused by “natural sources” or biogenic swamp gas using industry wellbores as conduits. (Refer to Figure 1):

Gas Migration Schematic from Husky gas migration study, 1993

2004 Ghillingar and Endres Oilfield Environmental Hazards Gas migration

2007 EUB Cumulative SCVF and gas migration in Alberta

SCVF = Surface Casing Vent Flow; GM = Gas Migration. EUB became ERCB, now AER (Alberta Energy Regulator)

Above Slides from Ernst presentations.

In 2011, Dr. Muehlenbachs presented in Washington (slides included below) that more than 70% of casing gases come from the intermediate layers of energy well bores, not the target zone:

The homeowners said their wells had never had problems before the Anschutz drilling. Joe Todd said his water had been free of sediment for 46 years, but after the first gas well was finished his water was cloudy with black sediment and methane.  He’s probably is not lying, but he could not prove the water’s condition prior to drilling. Saying it was clear was hearsay. [Why do you think fracking companies, corrupt politicians and their non-regulating regulators the world over do not want to mandate complete drilling/cementing/fracing/servicing chemical disclosure before activities take place, and appropriate, comprehensive pre-drilling/fracing water testing?]

Paul Rubin, a hydrologist hired by the homeowners, said the methane likely migrated from the gas wells through a network of bedrock fractures. But the judge dismissed Rubin’s arguments as speculation, saying he failed to provide any scientific evidence to support his claims. Note that Rubin was forced into having to try to prove the gas came from the target formation, not just from a biogenic source. The contamination could come from any gas bearing layer – not just the target – and drilling – not fracking – mobilized it. But the plaintiffs could not prove the water was clear pre-drilling, so they were left with the much greater task of having to prove the methane came from the well’s target. 

If there was no lab test of the well water prior to drilling, the homeowner’s had no evidence to prove contamination at all. Much less originated from the Trenton Black River formation. So they were twice fracked. In these cases, the burden of proof is on the homeowner to prove they’ve been damaged. [Emphasis added] …

Case 6:11-cv-06119-CJS-JWF

Document 143 Filed 12/17/14

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

JASON BAKER, JOHN BREWSTER, JOANN BREWSTER, MAXINE CONDON, KAREN FARRELL, BROOKS LIDDIARD, JANET LIDDIARD, JAMES MCDERMOTT, PAUL MOREY, DONETTA MOREY, JOE TODD, BONNIE TODD, TOM WHIPPLE, PAULINE WHIPPPLE, Plaintiffs,

-vs

ANSCHUTZ EXPLORATION CORPORATION, JOHN AND JANE DOES 1 THROUGH 100, Defendants. 

DECISION AND ORDER

11-CV-6119-CJS

INTRODUCTION

Siragusa, J. This action alleging negligence and other related causes of action involves a gas drilling company that Plaintiffs allege has contaminated their residential water wells through its gas exploration in Chemung County, New York. The case was removed by Defendant Anschutz Exploration Corporation (“Anschutz”) and is now before the Court on Anschutz’s motions seeking an order granting summary judgment, ECF No. 132, and striking Plaintiffs’ expert testimony, ECF No. 133. For the reasons stated below, both applications are granted.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Anschutz’s two applications, ECF No. 132 seeking summary judgment, and ECF No. 133 motion in limine, are granted. Paul Rubin’s expert testimony is excluded, and the Clerk is directed to enter summary judgment for defendant Anschutz.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: December 17, 2014

Rochester, New York /s/ Charles J. Siragusa

CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA

United States District Judge

[Refer also to:

2010 11 18: Contamination from Natural Gas Drilling Sparks Lawsuits, Investigations

The law firms are also investigating several instances of water contamination that may be associated with straight line drilling being performed by Anschutz Exploration and its contractor, R.W Consulting, in Big Flats, Chemung County, New York. Methane contamination in water wells for at least 10 homes has already been confirmed, but the number is expected to rise as more testing is completed. It is unknown at this time if the contamination is limited to methane, and test results for barium and other toxic substances are pending. [Emphasis added]

The Science is Deafening, Industry's gas migration

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