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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 May 19;112(20):6325-30. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420279112. Epub 2015 May 4.

Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development.

Author information

1
Appalachia Hydrogeologic and Environmental Consulting, LLC, Bridgewater, NJ 08807; gllewellyn@appalachiaconsulting.com brantley@geosc.psu.edu.
2
Department of Biochemistry and.
3
Earth and Environmental Systems Institute and Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802; and.
4
Leco Corporation, St. Joseph, MI 49085.
5
Earth and Environmental Systems Institute and Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802; and gllewellyn@appalachiaconsulting.com brantley@geosc.psu.edu.

Abstract

High-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) has revolutionized the oil and gas industry worldwide but has been accompanied by highly controversial incidents of reported water contamination. For example, groundwater contamination by stray natural gas and spillage of brine and other gas drilling-related fluids is known to occur. However, contamination of shallow potable aquifers by HVHF at depth has never been fully documented. We investigated a case where Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania caused inundation of natural gas and foam in initially potable groundwater used by several households. With comprehensive 2D gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GCxGC-TOFMS), an unresolved complex mixture of organic compounds was identified in the aquifer. Similar signatures were also observed in flowback from Marcellus Shale gas wells. A compound identified in flowback, 2-n-Butoxyethanol, was also positively identified in one of the foaming drinking water wells at nanogram-per-liter concentrations. The most likely explanation of the incident is that stray natural gas and drilling or HF compounds were driven ∼ 1-3 km along shallow to intermediate depth fractures to the aquifer used as a potable water source. Part of the problem may have been wastewaters from a pit leak reported at the nearest gas well pad-the only nearby pad where wells were hydraulically fractured before the contamination incident. If samples of drilling, pit, and HVHF fluids had been available, GCxGC-TOFMS might have fingerprinted the contamination source. Such evaluations would contribute significantly to better management practices as the shale gas industry expands worldwide.

KEYWORDS:

Marcellus Shale; high-volume hydraulic fracturing; natural gas; shale gas; water quality

PMID:
25941400
PMCID:
PMC4443362
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1420279112
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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