Monitoring Stray Natural Gas in Groundwater With Dissolved Nitrogen. An Example From Parker County, Texas

Toti E. Larson, Jean Philippe Nicot, Patrick Mickler, M. Clara Castro, Roxana Darvari, Tao Wen, Chris M. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Concern that hydraulic fracturing and natural gas production contaminates groundwater requires techniques to attribute and estimate methane flux. Although dissolved alkane and noble gas chemistry may distinguish thermogenic and microbial methane, low solubility and concentration of methane in atmosphere-equilibrated groundwater precludes the use of methane to differentiate locations affected by high and low flux of stray methane. We present a method to estimate stray gas infiltration into groundwater using dissolved nitrogen. Due to the high concentration of nitrogen in atmospheric-recharged groundwater and low concentration in natural gas, dissolved nitrogen in groundwater is much less sensitive to change than dissolved methane and may differentiate groundwater affected high and low flux of stray natural gas. We report alkane and nitrogen chemistry from shallow groundwater wells and eight natural gas production wells in the Barnett Shale footprint to attribute methane and estimate mixing ratios of thermogenic natural gas to groundwater. Most groundwater wells have trace to nondetect concentrations of methane. A cluster of groundwater wells have greater than 10 mg/L dissolved methane concentrations with alkane chemistries similar to natural gas from the Barnett Shale and/or shallower Strawn Group suggesting that localized migration of natural gas occurred. Two-component mixing models constructed with dissolved nitrogen concentrations and isotope values identify three wells that were likely affected by a large influx of natural gas with gas:water mixing ratios approaching 1:5. Most groundwater wells, even those with greater than 10-mg/L methane, have dissolved nitrogen chemistry typical of atmosphere-equilibrated groundwater suggesting natural gas:water mixing ratios smaller than 1:20.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6024-6041
Number of pages18
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • contamination
  • dissolved gas
  • groundwater
  • hydraulic fracturing
  • methane
  • natural gas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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