Natural Methane in Appalachian Basin Waters

by | Aug 4, 2016

Research Summary

The use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to access unconventional oil and gas reserves has led to a “cottage industry” of lawsuits against hydrocarbon companies for allegedly contaminating drinking water by methane gas. 

To address the extent to which methane naturally occurs in the rocks overlying unconventional gas reserves in Appalachia, IES’s, Senior Scientist, Donald Siegel, in collaboration with Chesapeake Energy Corporation, researched and published two papers wherein they:

  1. Measured dissolved methane in over 25,000 groundwater samples in Pennsylvania and Ohio prior to nearby fracking. This dataset, the largest in the nation, effectively included the entire population of water wells in a multiple county-wide study area; and
  2. Evaluated if more methane occurred in drinking water closer to existing oil and gas wells of all types.

Siegel and colleagues found, not surprisingly –given over 40 years of prior publications reporting natural methane in Appalachia– that methane commonly occurs in groundwater tapping rocks colored grey and black from organic matter, whether they are shallow or deep. 

Moreover, where methane is found in groundwater does not relate to the proximity of oil or gas wells, but to groundwater parameters, such as how soft and saline the natural groundwater might be.

For More Information

The researched papers mention are:

Siegel DI, Azzolina, N.A., Smith, B.J., Perry, A.E., Bothun, R. L., 2015,Methane concentrations in water wells unrelated to proximity to existing oil and gas wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Environmental Science & Technology vol. 49, pp. 4106–4112.

Siegel, D.I., Smith, B.K., Perry, A. E., Bothun, R.L., and M. Hollingsworth, 2016, Dissolved methane in shallow groundwater of the Appalachian Basin: Results from the Chesapeake Energy predrilling geochemical database, Environmental Geosciences, v. 23, pp. 1– 47.

We have published other Briefings on natural methane in groundwater and the environment. You can read them here:

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  1. Inducing Methane By Pumping Water Wells Needs to be Considered - […] IES has also published additional research on methane releases and emissions. You can read more in this research article:…

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