Flawed well casings and cement blamed for drinking water contaminationin Pennsylvania and Texas
Faulty well integrity, not hydraulic fracturing deep underground, is the primary cause of drinking water contamination from shale gas extraction in parts of Pennsylvania and Texas, according to a new study by researchers from five universities.
The scientists from Duke, Ohio State, Stanford, Dartmouth and the University of Rochester published their peer-reviewed study Sept. 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using noble gas and hydrocarbon tracers, they analyzed the gas content of more than 130 drinking water wells in the two states.
"We found eight clusters of wells -- seven in Pennsylvania and one in Texas -- with contamination, including increased levels of natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and from shallower, intermediate layers in both states," said Thomas H. Darrah, assistant professor of earth science at Ohio State, who led the study while he was a research scientist at Duke.
"Our data clearly show that the contamination in these clusters stems from well-integrity problems such as poor casing and cementing," Darrah said.
"These results appear to rule out the possibility that methane has migrated up into drinking water aquifers because of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, as some people feared," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke.
In four of the affected clusters, the team's noble gas analysis shows that methane from drill sites escaped into drinking water wells from shallower depths through faulty or insufficient rings of cement surrounding a gas well's shaft. In three clusters, the tests suggest the methane leaked through faulty well casings. In one cluster, it was linked to an underground well failure.
"People's water has been harmed by drilling," said Robert B. Jackson, professor of environmental and earth sciences at Stanford and Duke. "In Texas, we even saw two homes go from clean to contaminated after our sampling began."
"The good news is that most of the issues we have identified can potentially be avoided by future improvements in well integrity," Darrah stressed.
Using both noble gas and hydrocarbon tracers -- a novel combination that enabled the researchers to identify and distinguish between the signatures of naturally occurring methane and stray gas contamination from shale gas drill sites -- the team analyzed gas content in 113 drinking-water wells and one natural methane seep overlying the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, and in 20 wells overlying the Barnett shale in Texas. Sampling was conducted in 2012 and 2013. Sampling sites included wells where contamination had been debated previously; wells known to have naturally high level of methane and salts, which tend to co-occur in areas overlying shale gas deposits; and wells located both within and beyond a one-kilometer distance from drill sites.
Noble gases such as helium, neon or argon are useful for tracing fugitive methane because although they mix with natural gas and can be transported with it, they are inert and are not altered by microbial activity or oxidation. By measuring changes in ratios in these tag-along noble gases, researchers can determine the source of fugitive methane and the mechanism by which it was transported into drinking water aquifers -- whether it migrated there as a free gas or was dissolved in water.
"This is the first study to provide a comprehensive analysis of noble gases and their isotopes in groundwater near shale gas wells," said Darrah, who is continuing the analysis in his lab at Ohio State. "Using these tracers, combined with the isotopic and chemical fingerprints of hydrocarbons in the water and its salt content, we can pinpoint the sources and pathways of methane contamination, and determine if it is natural or not."
Funding for the study came from a National Science Foundation EAGER grant (#EAR-1249255) and from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.
Nathaniel R. Warner, Obering Postdoctoral Fellow at Dartmouth College, and Robert J. Poreda, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester, co-authored the study.
CITATION: "Noble Gases Identify the Mechanisms of Fugitive Gas Contamination in Drinking-Water Wells Overlying the Marcellus and Barnett Shales," Thomas H. Darrah, Avner Vengosh, Robert B. Jackson, Nathaniel R. Warner and Robert J. Poreda, published date here in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1322107111
Tim Lucas | Eurek Alert!
Species may appear deceptively resilient to climate change
24.11.2017 | University of California - Davis
Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University
High-precision measurement of the g-factor eleven times more precise than before / Results indicate a strong similarity between protons and antiprotons
The magnetic moment of an individual proton is inconceivably small, but can still be quantified. The basis for undertaking this measurement was laid over ten...
Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
24.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
24.11.2017 | Earth Sciences