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Concept: Ethane


Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are transforming energy production, but their potential environmental effects remain controversial. We analyzed 141 drinking water wells across the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province of northeastern Pennsylvania, examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures with proximity to shale gas wells. Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes <1 km from natural gas wells (P = 0.0006). Ethane was 23 times higher in homes <1 km from gas wells (P = 0.0013); propane was detected in 10 water wells, all within approximately 1 km distance (P = 0.01). Of three factors previously proposed to influence gas concentrations in shallow groundwater (distances to gas wells, valley bottoms, and the Appalachian Structural Front, a proxy for tectonic deformation), distance to gas wells was highly significant for methane concentrations (P = 0.007; multiple regression), whereas distances to valley bottoms and the Appalachian Structural Front were not significant (P = 0.27 and P = 0.11, respectively). Distance to gas wells was also the most significant factor for Pearson and Spearman correlation analyses (P < 0.01). For ethane concentrations, distance to gas wells was the only statistically significant factor (P < 0.005). Isotopic signatures (δ(13)C-CH4, δ(13)C-C2H6, and δ(2)H-CH4), hydrocarbon ratios (methane to ethane and propane), and the ratio of the noble gas (4)He to CH4 in groundwater were characteristic of a thermally postmature Marcellus-like source in some cases. Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living <1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases.

Concepts: Statistics, Hydrogen, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Natural gas, Methane, Ethane, Shale gas


Recent measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil/gas wells show that these wells can be a substantial source of methane to the atmosphere, particularly from a small proportion of high-emitting wells. However, identifying high emitters remains a challenge. We couple 163 well measurements of methane flow rates; ethane, propane, and n-butane concentrations; isotopes of methane; and noble gas concentrations from 88 wells in Pennsylvania with synthesized data from historical documents, field investigations, and state databases. Using our databases, we (i) improve estimates of the number of abandoned wells in Pennsylvania; (ii) characterize key attributes that accompany high emitters, including depth, type, plugging status, and coal area designation; and (iii) estimate attribute-specific and overall methane emissions from abandoned wells. High emitters are best predicted as unplugged gas wells and plugged/vented gas wells in coal areas and appear to be unrelated to the presence of underground natural gas storage areas or unconventional oil/gas production. Repeat measurements over 2 years show that flow rates of high emitters are sustained through time. Our attribute-based methane emission data and our comprehensive estimate of 470,000-750,000 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania result in estimated state-wide emissions of 0.04-0.07 Mt (10(12) g) CH4 per year. This estimate represents 5-8% of annual anthropogenic methane emissions in Pennsylvania. Our methodology combining new field measurements with data mining of previously unavailable well attributes and numbers of wells can be used to improve methane emission estimates and prioritize cost-effective mitigation strategies for Pennsylvania and beyond.

Concepts: Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Natural gas, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Ethane, Propane


Single-point failures of the natural gas infrastructure can hamper deliberate methane emission control strategies designed to mitigate climate change. The 23 October 2015 blowout of a well connected to the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility in California resulted in a massive release of natural gas. Analysis of methane (CH4) and ethane (C2H6) data from dozens of plume transects from 13 research aircraft flights between 7 Nov 2015 and 13 Feb 2016 shows atmospheric leak rates of up to 60 metric tonnes of CH4 and 4.5 metric tonnes of C2H6 per hour. At its peak this blowout effectively doubled the CH4 emission rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin, and in total released 97,100 metric tonnes of methane to the atmosphere.

Concepts: Hydrocarbon, Atmosphere, Natural gas, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Saturn, Ethane, Titan


Reactions between dilute methane and non-energetic hydroxyl radicals were carried out at 3.5 K. The temperature was kept low in order to characterize the step-wise reaction and prevent parasitic side reactions. The hydroxyl radicals originate from discharged H2O/He mixtures. The reactions were monitored in-situ using a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer. The formation of CH3 radicals was confirmed simultaneously with the formation of water ice. Subsequent recombination reactions lead to the formation of ethane (C2H6). Production of ethane and water ice occur preferentially to the formation of methanol.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Alkane, Fourier transform, Infrared spectroscopy, Fourier transform spectroscopy, Methane, Fourier analysis, Ethane


Observations made during the New Horizons flyby provide a detailed snapshot of the current state of Pluto’s atmosphere. Whereas the lower atmosphere (at altitudes of less than 200 kilometers) is consistent with ground-based stellar occultations, the upper atmosphere is much colder and more compact than indicated by pre-encounter models. Molecular nitrogen (N2) dominates the atmosphere (at altitudes of less than 1800 kilometers or so), whereas methane (CH4), acetylene (C2H2), ethylene (C2H4), and ethane (C2H6) are abundant minor species and likely feed the production of an extensive haze that encompasses Pluto. The cold upper atmosphere shuts off the anticipated enhanced-Jeans, hydrodynamic-like escape of Pluto’s atmosphere to space. It is unclear whether the current state of Pluto’s atmosphere is representative of its average state–over seasonal or geologic time scales.

Concepts: Earth, Ethylene, Methane, Saturn, Ethane, Pluto, Acetylene, Titan


Using synchrotron X-ray powder diffraction, the structure of a co-crystal between benzene and ethane formed in situ at cryogenic conditions has been determined, and validated using dispersion-corrected density functional theory calculations. The structure comprises a lattice of benzene molecules hosting ethane molecules within channels. Similarity between the intermolecular interactions found in the co-crystal and in pure benzene indicate that the C-H⋯π network of benzene is maintained in the co-crystal, however, this expands to accommodate the guest ethane molecules. The co-crystal has a 3:1 benzene:ethane stoichiometry and is described in the space group [Formula: see text] with a = 15.977 (1) Å and c = 5.581 (1) Å at 90 K, with a density of 1.067 g cm(-3). The conditions under which this co-crystal forms identify it is a potential that forms from evaporation of Saturn’s moon Titan’s lakes, an evaporite material.

Concepts: Oxygen, Diffraction, Crystallography, Benzene, Density functional theory, X-ray crystallography, Methane, Ethane


Over the past 80 years, phenyl cation intermediates have been implicated in a variety of C-H arylation reactions. Although these examples have inspired several theoretical and mechanistic studies, aryl cation equivalents have received limited attention in organic methodology. Their high-energy, promiscuous reactivity profiles have hampered applications in selective intermolecular processes. We report a reaction design that overcomes these challenges. Specifically, we found that β-silicon-stabilized aryl cation equivalents, generated via silylium-mediated fluoride activation, undergo insertion into sp(3) and sp(2) C-H bonds. This reaction manifold provides a framework for the catalytic arylation of hydrocarbons, including simple alkanes such as methane. This process uses low loadings of Earth-abundant initiators (1 to 5 mole percent) and occurs under mild conditions (30° to 100°C).

Concepts: Chemical reaction, Hydrogen, Functional groups, Organic chemistry, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Methane, Ethane


Natural gas contains large volumes of light alkanes, and its abundant reserves make it an appealing feedstock for value-added chemicals and fuels. However, selectively activating the C-H bonds in these useful hydrocarbons is one of the greatest challenges in catalysis. Here we report an attractive oxybromination method for the one-step functionalization of methane under mild conditions that integrates gas-phase alkane bromination with heterogeneously catalysed HBr oxidation, a step that is usually executed separately. Catalyst-design strategies to provide optimal synergy between these two processes are discussed. Among many investigated material families, vanadium phosphate (VPO) is identified as the best oxybromination catalyst, as it provides selectivity for CH3Br up to 95% and stable operation for over 100 hours on stream. The outstanding performance of VPO is rationalized by its high activity in HBr oxidation and low propensity for methane and bromomethane oxidation. Data on the oxybromination of ethane and propane over VPO suggest that the reaction network for higher alkanes is more complex.

Concepts: Hydrogen, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Natural gas, Methane, Ethane, Propane


Microbial communities present in the Gulf of Mexico rapidly responded to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In deep water plumes, these communities were initially dominated by members of Oceanospirillales, Colwellia, and Cycloclasticus. None of these groups were abundant in surface oil slick samples, and Colwellia was much more abundant in oil-degrading enrichment cultures incubated at 4 °C than at room temperature, suggesting that the colder temperatures at plume depth favored the development of these communities. These groups decreased in abundance after the well was capped in July, but the addition of hydrocarbons in laboratory incubations of deep waters from the Gulf of Mexico stimulated Colwellia’s growth. Colwellia was the primary organism that incorporated (13)C from ethane and propane in stable isotope probing experiments, and given its abundance in environmental samples at the time that ethane and propane oxidation rates were high, it is likely that Colwellia was active in ethane and propane oxidation in situ. Colwellia also incorporated (13)C benzene, and Colwellia’s abundance in crude oil enrichments without natural gas suggests that it has the ability to consume a wide range of hydrocarbon compounds or their degradation products. However, the fact that ethane and propane alone were capable of stimulating the growth of Colwellia, and to a lesser extent, Oceanospirillales, suggests that high natural gas content of this spill may have provided an advantage to these organisms.

Concepts: Hydrogen, Gasoline, Petroleum, Carbon, Hydrocarbon, Natural gas, Ethane, Propane


There is a need for continued assessment of methane (CH4) emissions associated with natural gas (NG) production, especially as recent advancements in horizontal drilling combined with staged hydraulic fracturing technologies have dramatically increased NG production (we refer to these wells as “unconventional” NG wells). In this study, we measured facility-level CH4 emissions rates from the NG production sector in the Marcellus region, and compared CH4 emissions between unconventional NG (UNG) well pad sites and the relatively smaller and older “conventional” NG (CvNG) sites that consist of wells drilled vertically into permeable geologic formations. A top-down tracer-flux CH4 measurement approach utilizing mobile downwind intercepts of CH4, ethane, and tracer (nitrous oxide and acetylene) plumes was performed at 18 CvNG sites (19 individual wells) and 17 UNG sites (88 individual wells). The 17 UNG sites included four sites undergoing completion flowback (FB). The mean facility-level CH4 emission rate among UNG well pad sites in routine production (18.8 kg/h (95% confidence interval (CI) on the mean of 12.0-26.8 kg/h)) was 23 times greater than the mean CH4 emissions from CvNG sites. These differences were attributed, in part, to the large size (based on number of wells and ancillary NG production equipment) and the significantly higher production rate of UNG sites. However, CvNG sites generally had much higher production-normalized CH4 emission rates (median: 11%; range: 0.35-91%) compared to UNG sites (median: 0.13%, range: 0.01-1.2%), likely resulting from a greater prevalence of avoidable process operating conditions (e.g., unresolved equipment maintenance issues). At the regional scale, we estimate that total annual CH4 emissions from 88 500 combined CvNG well pads in Pennsylvania and West Virginia (660 Gg (95% CI: 500 to 800 Gg)) exceeded that from 3390 UNG well pads by 170 Gg, reflecting the large number of CvNG wells and the comparably large fraction of CH4 lost per unit production. The new emissions data suggest that the recently instituted Pennsylvania CH4 emissions inventory substantially underestimates measured facility-level CH4 emissions by >10-40 times for five UNG sites in this study.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Arithmetic mean, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Natural gas, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Ethane