Methane still leaking from the ground at site of gas explosion decades ago

December 29, 2017 by Bob Yirka, report
Ball and stick model of methane. Credit: Ben Mills/Public Domain

A team with members from several institutions in the Netherlands has found that the area around a site where a gas explosion occurred in 1965 is still emitting methane gas from the ground into the air. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes their study of the area and the degree of hazard the gas leak poses.

Back in 1965 a team working for the Dutch Petroleum Company (NAM-a venture between Exxon and Shell) accidentally caused a natural gas explosion at a gas field in Sleen, East Drenthe (in a northeastern part of the Netherlands). The blowout turned the sand in the area to quicksand, and a sank and disappeared into the ground. After a period of time, the area was converted into a park. But now, the area is back in the news, because the researchers with this new effort have discovered that the site is still leaking methane. NAM has also been in the news of late due to recent evidence implicating the company as the cause of impacting Groningen, a province just north of the former gas field.

The researchers made the discovery while looking into the environmental impact of shale gas production, including its possible contamination of groundwater. To learn more, they began testing well water in and around the park and the farmland that surrounds it. They report finding abnormally high levels of methane in the water and that its isotopic composition (its chemical signature) was very similar to that of the , suggesting that methane is leaking from cracks made below the surface as part of natural gas drilling operations a half-century ago.

The emissions do not present a health hazard, the researchers note, because is regularly cleared from drinking water as part of normal processing. But it could pose a problem if the gas accumulates in a building or structure—that could result in an explosion. But that, too, is unlikely, they further report, because the amount of gas being emitted drops quickly as distance from the site increases.

Explore further: In 'Gasland' community, new tests revive old drilling debate

More information: Gilian Schout et al. Impact of an historic underground gas well blowout on the current methane chemistry in a shallow groundwater system, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1711472115

Blowouts present a small but genuine risk when drilling into the deep subsurface and can have an immediate and significant impact on the surrounding environment. Nevertheless, studies that document their long-term impact are scarce. In 1965, a catastrophic underground blowout occurred during the drilling of a gas well in The Netherlands, which led to the uncontrolled release of large amounts of natural gas from the reservoir to the surface. In this study, the remaining impact on methane chemistry in the overlying aquifers was investigated. Methane concentrations higher than 10 mg/L (n = 12) were all found to have δ13C-CH4 values larger than −30‰, typical of a thermogenic origin. Both δ13C-CH4 and δD-CH4 correspond to the isotopic composition of the gas reservoir. Based on analysis of local groundwater flow conditions, this methane is not a remnant but most likely the result of ongoing leakage from the reservoir as a result of the blowout. Progressive enrichment of both δ13C-CH4 and δD-CH4 is observed with increasing distance and decreasing methane concentrations. The calculated isotopic fractionation factors of εC = 3 and εD = 54 suggest anaerobic methane oxidation is partly responsible for the observed decrease in concentrations. Elevated dissolved iron and manganese concentrations at the fringe of the methane plume show that oxidation is primarily mediated by the reduction of iron and manganese oxides. Combined, the data reveal the long-term impact that underground gas well blowouts may have on groundwater chemistry, as well as the important role of anaerobic oxidation in controlling the fate of dissolved methane.

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1.9 / 5 (9) Dec 29, 2017
Sorry but it is not uncommon for gas to leak from cracks in the earth even if no drilling has taken place. Thus the discovery of traces of nat gas in wells is not 100% proof that the company is to blame.
1 / 5 (7) Dec 29, 2017
Clearly there is a process in the inner earth that produces gases that expand upward. V Larin Hydridic Earth
4.8 / 5 (12) Dec 29, 2017
#M & #K : Did you read the article ?? This was the site of a blow-out big enough to fluidise the ground and swallow the rig. Try Occam's Razor before invoking other factors...
1 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2017
Nik, that well was capped by pouring 140 tons of cement down the bore hole. Thus, I really doubt that well failure is the cause of these readings. It is very common for even undrilled natural gas fields to show signs of seeping natural gas. So this cannot be 100% attributed to well drilling.
5 / 5 (5) Dec 29, 2017
Fair point, #M, but the open-access article mentions "the reservoir was highly compartmentalized due to fracturing". Note that the first blow-out surfaced some distance from drilling rig, and multiple further eruptions followed. Looks like the 'excursion' made a real mess of the strata, fracking any weak paths...

Incidentally, the pic of the well-site looks like the set of a budget SciFi disaster movie !!
1.3 / 5 (6) Dec 29, 2017
It is quite possible that there was seepage to begin with as MR166 states, and that the drilling unknowingly exacerbated it. The question is, if this wasn't knowable from the start, should we hold the drilling company liable? Should anyone be held liable for problems caused by hidden defects?

If they are to be held liable, then there won't be much in the way of natural gas exploration and our society will revert to other fuels such as coal to meet our base load needs. We also won't be in a good position to handle the ephemeral sources of energy from renewable sources.

Think carefully before ranting that fracking is evil. There are lesser and greater evils, but they all have problems.

We can't heat homes with energy sources that don't exist yet.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2017
"We can't heat homes with energy sources that don't exist yet."

That is the point isn't it. Yea, gas seepage might have some bad effects but running out of fuel is much much worse. Imposing draconian fines does little more than reduce the amount of gas available and increase the price. Lets say for argument that there was a way to drill for gas and oil that was 100% non-polluting, safe and that was the only method that was legal. Could we afford the end product and would there be enough product to meet societies demands? Reputable companies already take enormous care to insure a safe outcome.
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2017
Just another example out of 1000s that shows how big oil is ruining the world.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2017
"Just another example out of 1000s that shows how big oil is ruining the world."

The world runs on big oil. You might want to see mass starvation and deaths from exposure but not me. You should thank big oil for your very unrealistic existence.
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2017
"The world runs on big oil."

Yeah, and it was fun for a while. But we can't do that any more. I still use gas for heating, but we make all our own electricity for house and two electric vehicles.

And you can too.
4.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2017
"Just another example out of 1000s that shows how big oil is ruining the world."

The world runs on big oil. You might want to see mass starvation and deaths from exposure but not me. You should thank big oil for your very unrealistic existence.

Unfortunately it does... thanking corrupted politicians is below me so sorry won't happen, it's time to move on to exciting and new energy sources of which the world has been depraved of so direly by the corrupted and damaging oil monopoly.
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2017
rokolia, I think you meant deprived, not depraved.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 31, 2017
#A, UK & Western Europe strata are criss-crossed by many, many small faults, unlike the near-monolithic strata in eg US' Marcellus Shale. These small faults became the bane of the deep-mined coal industry. I remember one high-yielding UK pit claiming they had enough for 'many decades' . Yet, within five years, they'd hit 'intractable' geology and had to close..

There are ways to burn coal 'cleaner', such as in pressurised fluidised beds with sulphur capture. Still, such just buys time while inherently cleaner sources of energy are developed. By the way, it isn't just CO2 and sulphur dioxide gushing from the smoke-stacks, but mercury and many other heavy elements. Nickel and Uranium, if you are unlucky. Old King Coal is *dirty*.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2017
"it's time to move on to exciting and new energy sources of which the world has been depraved of so direly by the corrupted and damaging oil monopoly."

Yea and they hid the 100 mpg carburetor in their vaults for 50 years along with the pill that turns water into gas.
Thorium Boy
not rated yet Jan 02, 2018
How much methane is emitted by tens of thousands of acres of reclaimed wetlands which have been created since 1970?

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