Screening for Dissolved Methane in Groundwater Across Texas Shale Plays

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Jean-Philippe Nicot1, Patrick John Mickler1, Zacariah Hildenbrand2, Toti Larson3, Roxana Darvari1, Kristine Uhlman1, Rebecca C. Smyth1 and Bridget R Scanlon1, (1)University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, Austin, TX, United States, (2)Inform Environmental LLC, Dallas, TX, United States, (3)University of Texas at Austin, Department of Geological Sciences, Austin, TX, United States
There is considerable interest in methane concentrations in groundwater, particularly as they relate to hydraulic fracturing in shale plays. Recent studies of aquifers in the footprint of several gas plays across the US have shown that (1) dissolved thermogenic methane may or may not be present in the shallow groundwater and (2) shallow thermogenic methane may be naturally occurring and emplaced through mostly vertical migration over geologic time and not necessarily a consequence of recent unconventional gas production. We are currently conducting a large sampling campaign across the state of Texas to characterize shallow methane in fresh-water aquifers overlying shale plays and other tight formations. We collected a total of ~800 water samples, ~500 in the Barnett, ~150 in the Eagle Ford, ~80 in the Haynesville shale plays as well as ~50 in the Delaware Basin of West Texas. Preliminary analytical results suggest that dissolved methane is not widespread in shallow groundwater and that, when present at concentrations exceeding 10 mg/L, it is often of thermogenic origin according to the isotopic signature and to the presence of other light hydrocarbons. The Barnett Shale contains a large methane hotspot (~ 2 miles wide) along the Hood-Parker county line which is likely of natural origin whereas the Eagle Ford and Haynesville shales, neglecting microbial methane, show more distributed methane occurrences. Samples from the Delaware Basin show no methane except close to blowouts.