Water Contamination

An Evaluation of Water Quality in Private Drinking Water Wells Near Natural Gas Extraction Sites in the Barnett Shale Formation

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Natural gas has become a leading source of alternative energy with the advent of techniques to economically extract gas reserves from deep shale formations. Here, we present an assessment of private well water quality in aquifers overlying the Barnett Shale formation of North Texas. We evaluated samples from 100 private drinking water wells using analytical chemistry techniques. Analyses revealed that arsenic, selenium, strontium and total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in some samples from private water wells located within 3 km of active natural gas wells. Lower levels of arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were detected at reference sites outside the Barnett Shale region as well as sites within the Barnett Shale region located more than 3 km from active natural gas wells. Methanol and ethanol were also detected in 29% of samples. Samples exceeding MCL levels were randomly distributed within areas of active natural gas extraction, and the spatial patterns in our data suggest that elevated constituent levels could be due to a variety of factors including mobilization of natural constituents, hydrogeochemical changes from lowering of the water table, or industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings.

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Increased stray gas abundance in a subset of drinking water wells near Marcellus shale gas extraction

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are transforming energy production, but their potential environmental effects remain controversial. We analyzed 141 drinking water wells across the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province of northeastern Pennsylvania, examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures with proximity to shale gas wells. Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes <1 km from natural gas wells (P = 0.0006). Ethane was 23 times higher in homes <1 km from gas wells (P = 0.0013); propane was detected in 10 water wells, all within approximately 1 km distance (P = 0.01). Of three factors previously proposed to influence gas concentrations in shallow groundwater (distances to gas wells, valley bottoms, and the Appalachian Structural Front, a proxy for tectonic deformation), distance to gas wells was highly significant for methane concentrations (P = 0.007; multiple regression), whereas distances to valley bottoms and the Appalachian Structural Front were not significant (P = 0.27 and P = 0.11, respectively). Distance to gas wells was also the most significant factor for Pearson and Spearman correlation analyses (P < 0.01). For ethane concentrations, distance to gas wells was the only statistically significant factor (P < 0.005). Isotopic signatures (δ13C-CH4, δ13C-C2H6, and δ2H-CH4), hydrocarbon ratios (methane to ethane and propane), and the ratio of the noble gas 4He to CH4 in groundwater were characteristic of a thermally postmature Marcellus-like source in some cases. Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living <1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases.

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Water pollution risk associated with natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Environmental concerns surrounding drilling for gas are intense due to expansion of shale gas drilling operations. Controversy surrounding the impact of drilling on air and water quality has pitted industry and lease-holders against individuals and groups concerned with environmental protection and public health. Because animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles, animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health. This study involved interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations. The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts. Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements. Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.

© 2012 Society for Risk Analysis.

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Geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers in Pennsylvania

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

The debate surrounding the safety of shale gas development in the Appalachian Basin has generated increased awareness of drinking water quality in rural communities. Concerns include the potential for migration of stray gas, metal-rich formation brines, and hydraulic fracturing and/or flowback fluids to drinking water aquifers. A critical question common to these environmental risks is the hydraulic connectivity between the shale gas formations and the overlying shallow drinking water aquifers. We present geochemical evidence from northeastern Pennsylvania showing that pathways, unrelated to recent drilling activities, exist in some locations between deep underlying formations and shallow drinking water aquifers. Integration of chemical data (Br, Cl, Na, Ba, Sr, and Li) and isotopic ratios ((87)Sr/(86)Sr, (2)H/H, (18)O/(16)O, and (228)Ra/(226)Ra) from this and previous studies in 426 shallow groundwater samples and 83 northern Appalachian brine samples suggest that mixing relationships between shallow ground water and a deep formation brine causes groundwater salinization in some locations. The strong geochemical fingerprint in the salinized (Cl > 20 mg/L) groundwater sampled from the Alluvium, Catskill, and Lock Haven aquifers suggests possible migration of Marcellus brine through naturally occurring pathways. The occurrences of saline water do not correlate with the location of shale-gas wells and are consistent with reported data before rapid shale-gas development in the region; however, the presence of these fluids suggests conductive pathways and specific geostructural and/or hydrodynamic regimes in northeastern Pennsylvania that are at increased risk for contamination of shallow drinking water resources, particularly by fugitive gases, because of natural hydraulic connections to deeper formations.

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Potential contaminant pathways from hydraulically fractured shale to aquifers

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Hydraulic fracturing of deep shale beds to develop natural gas has caused concern regarding the potential for various forms of water pollution. Two potential pathways-advective transport through bulk media and preferential flow through fractures-could allow the transport of contaminants from the fractured shale to aquifers. There is substantial geologic evidence that natural vertical flow drives contaminants, mostly brine, to near the surface from deep evaporite sources. Interpretative modeling shows that advective transport could require up to tens of thousands of years to move contaminants to the surface, but also that fracking the shale could reduce that transport time to tens or hundreds of years. Conductive faults or fracture zones, as found throughout the Marcellus shale region, could reduce the travel time further. Injection of up to 15,000,000 L of fluid into the shale generates high pressure at the well, which decreases with distance from the well and with time after injection as the fluid advects through the shale. The advection displaces native fluids, mostly brine, and fractures the bulk media widening existing fractures. Simulated pressure returns to pre-injection levels in about 300 d. The overall system requires from 3 to 6 years to reach a new equilibrium reflecting the significant changes caused by fracking the shale, which could allow advective transport to aquifers in less than 10 years. The rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing requires that monitoring systems be employed to track the movement of contaminants and that gas wells have a reasonable offset from faults.

© 2012, The Author(s). Ground Water © 2012, National Ground Water Association.

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Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Directional drilling and hydraulic-fracturing technologies are dramatically increasing natural-gas extraction. In aquifers overlying the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, we document systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale-gas extraction. In active gas-extraction areas (one or more gas wells within 1 km), average and maximum methane concentrations in drinking-water wells increased with proximity to the nearest gas well and were 19.2 and 64 mg CH(4) L(-1) (n = 26), a potential explosion hazard; in contrast, dissolved methane samples in neighboring nonextraction sites (no gas wells within 1 km) within similar geologic formations and hydrogeologic regimes averaged only 1.1 mg L(-1) (P < 0.05; n = 34). Average δ(13)C-CH(4) values of dissolved methane in shallow groundwater were significantly less negative for active than for nonactive sites (-37 ± 7‰ and -54 ± 11‰, respectively; P < 0.0001). These δ(13)C-CH(4) data, coupled with the ratios of methane-to-higher-chain hydrocarbons, and δ(2)H-CH(4) values, are consistent with deeper thermogenic methane sources such as the Marcellus and Utica shales at the active sites and matched gas geochemistry from gas wells nearby. In contrast, lower-concentration samples from shallow groundwater at nonactive sites had isotopic signatures reflecting a more biogenic or mixed biogenic/thermogenic methane source. We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids. We conclude that greater stewardship, data, and-possibly-regulation are needed to ensure the sustainable future of shale-gas extraction and to improve public confidence in its use.

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