Geochemical Evidence of Potential Groundwater Contamination with Human Health Risks Where Hydraulic Fracturing Overlaps with Extensive Legacy Hydrocarbon Extraction

Samuel W. Shaheen, Tao Wen, Alison Herman, Susan L. Brantley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) sometimes impacts water resources, including incidents of methane (CH4) migration from compromised wells and spills that degrade water with salts, organics, and metals. We hypothesized that contamination may be more common where UOGD overlaps with legacy coal, oil, and gas extraction. We tested this hypothesis on ∼7000 groundwater analyses from the largest U.S. shale gas play (Marcellus), using data mining techniques to explore UOGD contamination frequency. Corroborating the hypothesis, we discovered small, statistically significant regional correlations between groundwater chloride concentrations ([Cl]) and UOGD proximity and density where legacy extraction was extremely dense (southwestern Pennsylvania (SWPA)) but no such correlations where it was minimal (northeastern Pennsylvania). On the other hand, legacy extraction of shallow gas in SWPA may have lessened today's gas leakage, as no regional correlation was detected for [CH4] in SWPA. We identify hotspots where [Cl] and [CH4] increase by 3.6 and 3.0 mg/L, respectively, per UOG well drilled in SWPA. If the [Cl] correlations document contamination via brines leaked from wellbores, impoundments, or spills, we calculate that thallium concentrations could exceed EPA limits in the most densely developed hotspots, thus posing a potential human health risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10010-10019
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Volume56
Issue number14
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 19 2022

Keywords

  • brine
  • groundwater
  • methane
  • oil and gas
  • shale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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