Relationship between Prevailing Redox Conditions, Water Type, Topographic Location and Methane Concentrations in Susquehanna County, NE Pennsylvania

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:20 AM
Lisa Jo Molofsky, Tom E McHugh, John A Connor and Stephen D Richardson, GSI Environmental Inc., Houston, TX, United States
Historical occurrence of methane in residential water wells in parts of the Appalachian basin (Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia) has long been recognized as a natural phenomenon. The recent increase in shale gas extraction activities in these areas has highlighted the need to distinguish between baseline methane concentrations and those that may results from gas extraction activities. For the first time, this study shows that natural dissolved methane in Northeastern Pennsylvania exhibits a relationship with prevailing redox conditions of groundwater, though this relationship is not entirely as predicted. Specifically, methane concentrations in 806 pre-drill samples from residential water wells in Susquehanna County, NE Pennsylvania, were found to be highest in samples with low SO4 concentrations but low Fe(II) concentrations. This is opposite from what would be expected if high methane concentrations were associated with a reduction of insoluble Fe(III)-minerals resulting in the release of soluble Fe(II) (and therefore, an increase in measurable dissolved iron). The water type (i.e., Na-rich vs. Ca-rich), and topographic location (i.e., valley vs. upland) was also evaluated for each of the prevailing redox states to identify associations and potential driving factors. Based on this information, this talk identifies a combination of easily identifiable natural environmental “risk” factors (i.e., advanced redox state, Na-rich water type, and valley setting) that are highly predictive of naturally elevated methane concentrations in water wells. These findings highlight simple and meaningful relationships that may be used to infer whether methane in residential water sources is natural or associated with stray gas migration.