Studying the Sources of Methane Migration Into Groundwater

Photo courtesy of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.
New scientific data suggest that faulty well casing and poor cement jobs can lead to stray methane gas migrating into water wells located near producing natural gas wells. The science is young and more studies will be required before experts agree on how prevalent the problem is.

The rapid development of shale formations over the past decade has led the United States to become the world’s undisputed leader in natural gas production. This success, though, has come with increased scrutiny over the environmental impact of high-density drilling activities required to maintain unconventional gas production. One of the issues that industry and environmental experts are working to understand involves the risk of stray gas migration into groundwater sources, which a recent university study linked to cementing and casing failures.

In their paper, researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University, Stanford University, and several other academic institutions, said the industry can do more to prevent this type of problem, ensuring that future onshore development poses as little risk as possible to people who live near oil and natural gas fields. However, there is scientific debate on such findings and whether natural sources of methane found in water sources are far more common. The early research by various organizations hopes to provide answers to questions such as the best way to sample residential water wells, how to distinguish naturally occurring methane from stray production gas, and what can be done to prevent well failures that might contaminate water.

The Ohio State University-led study, produced by a team of Earth scientists, is one of the most comprehensive works on methane contamination to date and its findings were published in September by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 100-year-old, peer-reviewed scientific journal based in Washington, D.C. The study identified several potential ways methane can migrate into groundwater, and used noble gas analysis, which measures the isotopes of the gases that often accompany methane, to determine the most likely source.

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Studying the Sources of Methane Migration Into Groundwater

Trent Jacobs, JPT Senior Technology Writer

01 December 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 12

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