word choice: thermogenic

Have you heard of thermogenic and biogenic methane? Do you know what the difference is between the two? Does it even matter? That’s what today’s post is about– not the science, really, but the wording.

I’ve barked about the science end of this before. Today I’m asking why the natural gas industry even focuses on this word in the first place. Is that a reasonable thing to do? Why do they do it? What does such scientificky stuff mean to the average dog (or human)?

You will most likely run across this word when someone is explaining different “kinds” of gas in relation to a gas migration event. Whenever gas is found to be migrating into a water well, creek, pond, etc., the DEP and the gas company will try to figure out what “kind” of gas it is.

Is it thermogenic? Thermogenic gas is the kind of gas for which they drill. It is not supposed to be migrating anywhere. It’s supposed to be locked in shale a mile or more below us.

There is also gas locked in sand and shale and sitting in pockets in many other layers in the earth. This is often pointed out by gas companies because they say, “There is gas in water supplies already in Pennsylvania because there is gas all over the place.”

And so that’s why we here the word “thermogenic”. Supposedly, if the migrating gas is not thermogenic, then the gas company is off the hook. But this makes no sense because, as we often hear, Marcellus shale gas is not the only kind of gas that is out there to be disturbed by the gas companies.

You see, humans, it’s like this: On the way down, many other layers of the earth are punctured. Gas companies love to say, “There is impermeable rock between the Marcellus gas and the other layers of the earth” or something to that effect. What they leave out is the glaringly obvious: Yes, dog, of course  we punctured a hole down through all those layers.

Then comes a big debate about cement and casings, which have been documented to fail time and time again. Yes, that’s why the gas gets up into the other layers, they say… all they while, though, they are still talking about “thermogenic” gas, as if that is the only gas for which they are responsible. Never mind what they disturbed in those other layers.

After a private water supply is affected by gas development, and if the isotopic tests come back stating that the gas in your water well is not thermogenic, then the gas company would say, “Therefore, we are off the hook.”

Hold yer horses. This is why I bark about why we talk about words.

What was the reason for the isotopic water test in the first place?  Isotopics, although interesting, cannot rule out a gas company’s liability. They can rule it in, but they cannot be used to rule it out. Why? Because the gas company isn’t just responsible for thermogenic gas. They are responsible for whatever they affect.

Humans, the question is not simply: “Is it thermogenic?”

The question is: “Did their operations cause any gas to migrate to this other spot?”

If the gas is thermogenic, then good. If it isn’t, then that’s still fine. The gas company is not off the hook. Why? Because of those other layers between us and the Marcellus that they drill through on the way down… the ones that are perforated by accident… that are not cemented properly… that are spotted with failed casings… you get the idea…


Note: Today’s blog is hypothetical scenarios usd to illustrate how rhetoric is used. It is not necessarily based on any specific story.  Fer real.

About adamaecompton

just a three-legged rescue dog, bloggin about critical citizenship, the environment, and all sorts of literacy.
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4 Responses to word choice: thermogenic

  1. David Meiser says:

    If you notice the drillers are extremely careful on how they word their propaganda. for example when they talk about “fracking” they are only referring to the one small segment in gas drilling which breaks up the rock. But in the public’s eye “fracking” is the entire gas extraction process.

  2. so I guess what I want to know is how to get it classified as a contaminate
    and how to get it classified as such as it is not and my water today and I don’t want is to be released into my water by some big company.
    Thanks for your work!

    • The DEP does consider methane a contaminate, so that part is done in general. If you mean for your specific water well, then the important thing to do now is get a water test conducted– right now. Then, after you suspect contamination, the DEP will test your water again (and so will the gas company). Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to stop it from being released if the well is a faulty well.

  3. David – “drillers are extremely careful on how they word their propaganda”, oh yeah & so’s the DOE’s Natural Gas Subcommittee – their report belabored what “regular” people mean by the word fracking, vs. the strict definition the NGS’ shills allow for fracking, (echoing the nonsensical thermogenic v. biogenic debate ).

    What damn difference does it make? The fact remains that the damages caused to our water & air that we “regular” people (and at least one dog), are clamoring about – WOULD NOT OCCUR IF THERE WERE NO FRACKING.

    Ada – BINGO!!!!
    “The question is: “Did their operations cause any gas to migrate to this other spot?”
    “Gas companies love to say, “There is impermeable rock between the Marcellus gas and the other layers of the earth” I’m no geologist, but I know that shale is way more crumbly than, say, granite. Most of the drilling goes thru shale, right?


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