Combinations of Observations from Multiple Projects Related to My Experience and Introduction to Methane in Northeastern Pennsylvania

As a young geologist working at Wilkes University, I got a call from a private well owner about a problem with salty water. The site was located in the northern part of Susquehanna County. I did not collect the sample, but sent them a sampling kit to collect the sample and the homeowner mailed the sample back to me at Wilkes University. This program has know grown into to the Homeowner Outreach Program at Wilkes University - and then my own personal Education Portal - The Water Research Center -

We got the sample back at the laboratory and tested, it was high in sodium, chloride,, iron, manganese, high TDS, and high pH. It also had a chemical smell? I spoke to the homeowner and they told me they had a water softener - The Solution - the softener was leaking salt around the gasket. I sent them a new kit and I asked them to send a sample before the softener - Guess what - I still had the problem.

I did not know what ways going on. At first - I thought road salt or the site was near an old Superfund Area, but when I tested the second time I checked for bromide and it was high, i.e., above 1 to 2 mg/L. Then I thought salt or connate water. I called and asked them the depth of the well - the well was 600 feet deep in a valley area and had a very low yield.

Well I was young - I drove to the site to collect a water sample to see things for myself. I measured the water level in the well - the Static water level was lower than I thought for being located in a valley and I heard some trickle of water in the well- i.e., cascading water - This suggested a vertical component to the flow and water was going down?? Again - rather strange in a valley structure.

Then - I attempted to measure the well depth - Not 600 feet - but over 750 feet. The Homeowner did not the actual depth of the well.

Started to Purge the well - the inital water coming from the well had a relatively low tds (less than 1000 umohs/cm), but after 30 minutes of purging the conductivity rose to over 2500 uS/cm - estimated TDS of about 1000 mg/L. After 60 minutes, the pumping rate dropped more and the water became discolored and then the water got fizzy. I thought air was entering the pump, so I reduce the flow and after 15 minutes it stopped fizzing. I collected a water sample and submitted to a water laboratory that conducts informational water testing using certified methods. I got the results back and the laboratory suggested that there may be a problem with methane (really???- methane in NEPA) and the laboratory confirmed the presence of connate water.

The methane concentration varied this was really strange - I returned to the site and resampled methane during the purging process. It was interesting to see the that concentration of methane increased as the length of the purging time increased. When I was purging this time, I was monitoring pH, temperature, and conductivity - it appeared that the methane levels stabilized after about 30 to 45 minutes of pumping for this particular well and this appeared to correspond to a rather stable conductivity.

Note: The highest level of methane I detected was only about 9 mg/L. The range in this well was < 1 mg/L to 9 mg/L (same well).

Just my experience with groundwater in NEPA.

The date - 1989 to 1991

I wish I keep the data in a secure area - I was not aware of the Marcellus Shale - it was not on the radar - It would make a great presentation and educational tool. I would be interested in trying to resample a well and characterize and document this condition. I may need some assistance with laboratory costs- since testing costs are much higher.

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Brian Oram

Online training courses in LEED, Green Associate, Geology, Engineering, Alternative Energy and more.

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Comment by Herbert G. Flavell on January 10, 2011 at 7:35pm
Glad to have you visit. Send your Wilks email address. I'll forward my web site. Another thing I will say is our water here is really just under the surface. We had a seep in our yard that was always wet, even in drought years. So I had an idea. We had a flock of 32 geese that we had to put in a small barn in the winter when our 450 ft long pond (spring fed) freezes solid. My son would cart a 5 gallon bucket of water to the barn every night for our geese. So I had a neighbor with a backhoe dig a 6 ft deep hole. We put in a 24 inch ribbed plastic pipe. Then filled in around the pipe and poured in 100 pounds of sand in the pipe. One day later there was 6 feet of water in the pipe. It has been full ever since. But I feel thats why shallow wells are only as pure as the land above them. I would never drink that water but geese drink and eat anything.
Comment by Brian Oram, PG on January 10, 2011 at 7:13pm

Thanks for your story and insight.  I work at Wilkes University and I am working on a Citizen Groundwater Database.  When you get the data back from the gas company, I would appreciate if you would release a copy to Wilkes University.  The database does NOT include your name or mailing address - No personal data.  Just the data, zip code and an approximate GPS position.

If you send me the data - baseline prior to drilling - I will also evaluate it for you and explain it no charge.  Love to visit.

My web portal is

You can also download a free Water Quality Manual - I am one of the authors.


Comment by Herbert G. Flavell on January 10, 2011 at 7:03pm
Brian glad to see you found methane in the water in 1989. In a talk with my barber he told me of a 6 year old boy that bought a jar of water to school often to have his teacher light the water. That boy is now 76 years old. We drilled our well in 1988. It is at 440 ft and supplied 42 cubic ft per minute. We drilled a 2nd well in 1993 for a guest cabin we built. It supplies the same 42 cubic ft per minute.  I think that the problem with most shallow wells is that there have been cows on all this land for hundreds of years and the runoff from thousands of cow pies affects the water. When we developed our land part of a dairy farm that had not had a cow on it since 1964. When the dozers started pushing dirt it smelled as if the cows were there yesterday. The top soil was 27 inches deep. Another thought is that the water table here is very close to the surface and water being water seeps into the lower water table polluting it with what ever junk is on the surface. We have in our lease that our water be tested by the driller before drilling and after the well is finished. To bad that was not done by other drilling companies.
Comment by Brian Oram, PG on December 28, 2010 at 12:52pm

Most drillers do not test the water after drilling a private well - they only check yield.  The water may first get tested after the home is built, electrical on-site and pump is installed and in most cases the water is only tested for bacteria.


I had one client -that drilled the well and only got about 3 gpm. They built their dream home at a cost of about 0.5 Million - They installed the pump and tested the water - the water was a mixture of connate and freshwater- TDS was over 2000 mg/L.  They had to install a rainwater capture system to provide a supplementary water source.   


This is one part of my education related to private wells.  We need-

Private Well Construction and reporting Standards

We Need some Basic Post-Drilling Water Testing that is submitted to the homeowner and at a minimum the Township so it could be part of an occupency permit

We need to make sure that the homeowner gets this information and it does not stay in the hands of only the builder and well driller.

We need to get people to test their water and make the correct changes.


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