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Flames continue to burn for North Dakota shallow gas study: Geological Survey to test methane as economical resource

North Dakota geologists have finished selecting spots across the state to study a resource that could be used as an energy resource -- shallow gas.

"The intent of this project was to see if we could identify economically producible shallow gas," North Dakota State Geologist Ed Murphy said.

The North Dakota Geological Survey has been investigating methane from wells since 2005, geologist Fred Anderson previously told The Dickinson Press.

About 9,400 water wells were looked at across the state. Shallow gas was found in 900 of 4,300 tested.

The state department planned to complete the project in December, but selection was pushed back into March, Murphy said. Staff members plan to analyze samples this summer and should be completed July 2013.

Shallow gases are natural gases found less than 5,000 feet underground. It comes from decomposed organic matter and can be found near coal beds, particularly in western North Dakota.

Settlers in North Dakota used methane to heat their houses as far back as the late 1800s.

"We get almost invariably somebody that will say that either they or their grandfather or somebody used to be able to light their faucet," he said.

While there isn't much evidence that the gases could present a health hazard there are concerns about the gas igniting and exploding, said Dave Glatt, environmental health section chief of the North Dakota Department of Health.

"I could remember 30 years ago where we had reports of methane gas coming through the wells that were completed in coal seems," he said.

The health department will have to wait to see how the gas will be recovered if it is economical to use, Glatt said.

"If they move forward with any development, we want to look at how those water supplies are protected and make sure we aren't getting any mixing of gas in water and that the water quality is protected for other beneficial uses," he said.

The gases aren't economical to be used to power anything, but Murphy believes that at some point it could be again.