Penn State Goes Methane Migration Hunting – Using Big Data

We’re always leery when we read about scientists doing data mining instead of real in-the-field research. So our radar was on alert when we read about the latest data mining project now under way at Penn State. Using a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, a cross-disciplinary team of Penn State computer scientists and geoscientists will study methane concentrations in the Pennsylvania’s streams, rivers and private water wells. They will look to see if wells and streams and rivers close to fracked Marcellus Shale wells have higher concentrations of methane than those not close to shale wells. In other words, does fracking cause methane to migrate into nearby water sources? That’s what they’re trying to prove, or disprove. The problem, from our perspective, is whether or not the data being analyzed contains readings of methane levels present in those wells, streams and rivers BEFORE any kind of shale drilling happened. If you don’t have the before and after, the data is useless. Drillers have discovered where the best locations are to drill–so that’s where they drill. (Brilliant, we know.) So it stands to reason naturally occurring methane already exists in those locations. Just because a nearby well or stream has higher levels of methane does not prove a shale well caused it. The methane may have already existed in the same quantities long before any shale drilling. You see the problem? At any rate, here’s the lowdown on another million dollar research project to give the Marcellus yet another anal exam…

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