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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Sep 16;48(18):10795-803. doi: 10.1021/es501997p. Epub 2014 Sep 3.

Leakage detection of Marcellus Shale natural gas at an Upper Devonian gas monitoring well: a 3-d numerical modeling approach.

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U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, 626 Cochrans Mill Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15236, United States.


Potential natural gas leakage into shallow, overlying formations and aquifers from Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations is a public concern. However, before natural gas could reach underground sources of drinking water (USDW), it must pass through several geologic formations. Tracer and pressure monitoring in formations overlying the Marcellus could help detect natural gas leakage at hydraulic fracturing sites before it reaches USDW. In this study, a numerical simulation code (TOUGH 2) was used to investigate the potential for detecting leaking natural gas in such an overlying geologic formation. The modeled zone was based on a gas field in Greene County, Pennsylvania, undergoing production activities. The model assumed, hypothetically, that methane (CH4), the primary component of natural gas, with some tracer, was leaking around an existing well between the Marcellus Shale and the shallower and lower-pressure Bradford Formation. The leaky well was located 170 m away from a monitoring well, in the Bradford Formation. A simulation study was performed to determine how quickly the tracer monitoring could detect a leak of a known size. Using some typical parameters for the Bradford Formation, model results showed that a detectable tracer volume fraction of 2.0 × 10(-15) would be noted at the monitoring well in 9.8 years. The most rapid detection of tracer for the leak rates simulated was 81 days, but this scenario required that the leakage release point was at the same depth as the perforation zone of the monitoring well and the zones above and below the perforation zone had low permeability, which created a preferred tracer migration pathway along the perforation zone. Sensitivity analysis indicated that the time needed to detect CH4 leakage at the monitoring well was very sensitive to changes in the thickness of the high-permeability zone, CH4 leaking rate, and production rate of the monitoring well.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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