No. This is a well-traveled mythology, so let’s take a closer look. First, naturally occurring methane has been well documented all across the country – and for many years prior to drilling.
In Michigan, naturally occurring methane was documented in the 1960s, and in Pennsylvania in the 1980s – decades before hydraulic fracturing and shale development came to those states. Two U.S. Geological Survey studies found lots of methane in Pennsylvania and New York water wells prior to any drilling. Another peer-reviewed study examining 1,700 Pennsylvania water wells in both natural gas-producing and non-gas producing areas determined that “methane is ubiquitous in groundwater” in the region.
There have been efforts to debunk the fracking/flaming faucet myth. The documentary “Truthland” highlights an upstate New York resident setting his water on fire – while pointing out that the state had a fracking moratorium for years. Another documentary, “FrackNation,” features three U.S. towns called “Burning Springs,” because residents can ignite their water on fire. All got their names long before “fracking” ever became a household word. One of these is in the Niagara Falls, N.Y., region, where one visitor, D.W. Clark, observed in 1845:
“Arrived at the Spring, the attendant closed the door of the house to exclude the light, and then we were treated to a very fine illumination from the burning of the inflammable gas, which rises to the surface with a slight cracking noise, and readily becomes ignited by a lighted match being placed in it. The faces of those standing near looked like the ‘weird sisters’ of Macbeth around the cauldron of Hecate…”
A pair of anti-hydraulic fracturing films depict landowners lighting their water, but it was determined the methane in those cases had nothing to do with fracking. One involved a Colorado case in which investigating state regulators determined the methane was “not related to oil and gas activity,” but to the landowner drilling his water well through several natural gas-bearing rock zones.
Another showed a Parker County, Texas, landowner lighting the end of his garden hose. But a state investigation determined that the landowner had hooked up his hose to a gas vent, not a water line. A state district judge later ruled this created a “deceptive video” intended to scare other residents and to attract the EPA’s attention. Texas regulators looked into the case and found that the methane “signature” indicated it came from a shallower zone into which several water wells had been drilled – not from the Barnett Shale from which companies have been producing natural gas.