Rapid, Real-time Methane Detection in Ground Water Using a New Gas-Water Equilibrator Design

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Christopher J Ruybal1, Dominic C DiGiulio2, Richard T Wilkin3, Kristie D Hargrove3 and John E McCray1, (1)Colorado School of Mines, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Golden, CO, United States, (2)U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Retired), National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Ground Water and Ecosystems Restoration Division, Ada, OK, United States, (3)U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Ground Water and Ecosystems Restoration Division, Ada, OK, United States
Recent increases in unconventional gas development have been accompanied by public concern for methane contamination in drinking water wells near production areas. Although not a regulated pollutant, methane may be a marker contaminant for others that are less mobile in groundwater and thus may be detected later, or at a location closer to the source. In addition, methane poses an explosion hazard if exsolved concentrations reach 5 – 15% volume in air. Methods for determining dissolved gases, such as methane, have evolved over 60 years. However, the response time of these methods is insufficient to monitor trends in methane concentration in real-time. To enable rapid, real-time monitoring of aqueous methane concentrations during ground water purging, a new gas-water equilibrator (GWE) was designed that increases gas-water mass exchange rates of methane for measurement. Monitoring of concentration trends allows a comparison of temporal trends between sampling events and comparison of baseline conditions with potential post-impact conditions. These trends may be a result of removal of stored casing water, pre-purge ambient borehole flow, formation physical and chemical heterogeneity, or flow outside of well casing due to inadequate seals. Real-time information in the field can help focus an investigation, aid in determining when to collect a sample, save money by limiting costs (e.g. analytical, sample transport and storage), and provide an immediate assessment of local methane concentrations. Four domestic water wells, one municipal water well, and one agricultural water well were sampled for traditional laboratory analysis and compared to the field GWE results. Aqueous concentrations measured on the GWE ranged from non-detect to 1,470 μg/L methane. Some trends in aqueous methane concentrations measured on the GWE were observed during purging. Applying a paired t-test comparing the new GWE method and traditional laboratory analysis yielded a p-value 0.383, suggesting no significant difference between the two methods for the current study. Additional field and laboratory experimentation are necessary to justify use beyond screening. However, early GWE use suggests promising results and applications.