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Concept: Shale gas


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, Ethane, Shale gas, Petroleum, Methane, Hydrocarbon, Natural gas


Asthma is common and can be exacerbated by air pollution and stress. Unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) has community and environmental impacts. In Pennsylvania, UNGD began in 2005, and by 2012, 6253 wells had been drilled. There are no prior studies of UNGD and objective respiratory outcomes.

Concepts: Shale, Iran, Delaware River, Barnett Shale, Environmentalism, Natural gas, Shale gas


The expansion of unconventional shale gas and hydraulic fracturing has increased the volume of the oil and gas wastewater (OGW) generated in the U.S. Here we demonstrate that OGW from Marcellus and Fayetteville hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids and Appalachian conventional produced waters is characterized by high chloride, bromide, iodide (up to 56 mg/L), and ammonium (up to 420 mg/L). Br/Cl ratios were consistent for all Appalachian brines, which reflect an origin from a common parent brine, while the I/Cl and NH4/Cl ratios varied among brines from different geological formations, reflecting geogenic processes. There were no differences in halides and ammonium concentrations between OGW originating from hydraulic fracturing and conventional oil and gas operations. Analysis of discharged effluents from three brine treatment sites in Pennsylvania and a spill site in West Virginia show elevated levels of halides (iodide up to 28 mg/L) and ammonium (12 to 106 mg/L) that mimic the composition of OGW and mix conservatively in downstream surface waters. Bromide, iodide, and ammonium in surface waters can impact stream ecosystems and promote the formation of toxic brominated-, iodinated-, and nitrogen disinfection byproducts during chlorination at downstream drinking water treatment plants. Our findings indicate that discharge and accidental spills of OGW to waterways pose risks to both human health and the environment.

Concepts: Water purification, Shale gas, Natural gas, Sewage treatment, Water treatment, Petroleum, Chlorine, Water


High-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) has revolutionized the oil and gas industry worldwide but has been accompanied by highly controversial incidents of reported water contamination. For example, groundwater contamination by stray natural gas and spillage of brine and other gas drilling-related fluids is known to occur. However, contamination of shallow potable aquifers by HVHF at depth has never been fully documented. We investigated a case where Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania caused inundation of natural gas and foam in initially potable groundwater used by several households. With comprehensive 2D gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GCxGC-TOFMS), an unresolved complex mixture of organic compounds was identified in the aquifer. Similar signatures were also observed in flowback from Marcellus Shale gas wells. A compound identified in flowback, 2-n-Butoxyethanol, was also positively identified in one of the foaming drinking water wells at nanogram-per-liter concentrations. The most likely explanation of the incident is that stray natural gas and drilling or HF compounds were driven ∼1-3 km along shallow to intermediate depth fractures to the aquifer used as a potable water source. Part of the problem may have been wastewaters from a pit leak reported at the nearest gas well pad-the only nearby pad where wells were hydraulically fractured before the contamination incident. If samples of drilling, pit, and HVHF fluids had been available, GCxGC-TOFMS might have fingerprinted the contamination source. Such evaluations would contribute significantly to better management practices as the shale gas industry expands worldwide.

Concepts: Water well, Waterborne diseases, Natural gas, Aquifer, Petroleum, Shale gas, Groundwater, Water


Concern has been raised in the scientific literature about the environmental implications of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations, and published studies suggest that shale gas development may affect local groundwater quality. The potential for surface water quality degradation has been discussed in prior work, although no empirical analysis of this issue has been published. The potential for large-scale surface water quality degradation has affected regulatory approaches to shale gas development in some US states, despite the dearth of evidence. This paper conducts a large-scale examination of the extent to which shale gas development activities affect surface water quality. Focusing on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, we estimate the effect of shale gas wells and the release of treated shale gas waste by permitted treatment facilities on observed downstream concentrations of chloride (Cl(-)) and total suspended solids (TSS), controlling for other factors. Results suggest that (i) the treatment of shale gas waste by treatment plants in a watershed raises downstream Cl(-) concentrations but not TSS concentrations, and (ii) the presence of shale gas wells in a watershed raises downstream TSS concentrations but not Cl(-) concentrations. These results can inform future voluntary measures taken by shale gas operators and policy approaches taken by regulators to protect surface water quality as the scale of this economically important activity increases.

Concepts: Barnett Shale, Scientific method, Petroleum, Natural gas, Water pollution, Shale, Water, Shale gas


The safe disposal of liquid wastes associated with oil and gas production in the United States is a major challenge given their large volumes and typically high levels of contaminants. In Pennsylvania, oil and gas wastewater is sometimes treated at brine treatment facilities and discharged to local streams. This study examined the water quality and isotopic compositions of discharged effluents, surface waters, and stream sediments associated with a treatment facility site in western Pennsylvania. The elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with the strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions of the effluents reflect the composition of Marcellus Shale produced waters. The discharge of the effluent from the treatment facility increased downstream concentrations of chloride and bromide above background levels. Barium and radium were substantially (>90%) reduced in the treated effluents compared to concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters. Nonetheless, (226)Ra levels in stream sediments (544-8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were ∼200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22-44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal.

Concepts: Shale, Hydrogen, Barnett Shale, Shale gas, Radioactive waste, Water pollution, Waste, Water


Natural gas from tight shale formations will provide the United States with a major source of energy over the next several decades. Estimates of gas production from these formations have mainly relied on formulas designed for wells with a different geometry. We consider the simplest model of gas production consistent with the basic physics and geometry of the extraction process. In principle, solutions of the model depend upon many parameters, but in practice and within a given gas field, all but two can be fixed at typical values, leading to a nonlinear diffusion problem we solve exactly with a scaling curve. The scaling curve production rate declines as 1 over the square root of time early on, and it later declines exponentially. This simple model provides a surprisingly accurate description of gas extraction from 8,294 wells in the United States' oldest shale play, the Barnett Shale. There is good agreement with the scaling theory for 2,057 horizontal wells in which production started to decline exponentially in less than 10 y. The remaining 6,237 horizontal wells in our analysis are too young for us to predict when exponential decline will set in, but the model can nevertheless be used to establish lower and upper bounds on well lifetime. Finally, we obtain upper and lower bounds on the gas that will be produced by the wells in our sample, individually and in total. The estimated ultimate recovery from our sample of 8,294 wells is between 10 and 20 trillion standard cubic feet.

Concepts: Natural gas, Shale gas


The rapid development of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for mining natural gas from shale has posed potential impacts on human health and biodiversity. The produced flow back waters after hydraulic stimulation are known to carry high levels of saline and total dissolved solids. To understand the toxicity and potential carcinogenic effects of these wastewaters, flow back waters from five Marcellus hydraulic fracturing oil and gas wells were analyzed. The physicochemical nature of these samples was analyzed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. A cytotoxicity study using colony formation as the endpoint was carried out to define the LC50 values of test samples using human bronchial epithelial cells (BEAS-2B). The BEAS-2B cell transformation assay was employed to assess the carcinogenic potential of the samples. Barium and strontium were among the most abundant metals in these samples and the same metals were found to be elevated in BEAS-2B cells after long-term treatment. BEAS-2B cells treated for 6weeks with flow back waters produced colony formation in soft agar that was concentration dependent. In addition, flow back water-transformed BEAS-2B cells show better migration capability when compared to control cells. This study provides information needed to assess the potential health impact of post-hydraulic fracturing flow back waters from Marcellus Shale natural gas mining.

Concepts: Cancer, Total dissolved solids, Petroleum, Barnett Shale, Spectroscopy, Natural gas, Marcellus Formation, Shale gas


Casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells can lead to methane migration into the atmosphere and/or into underground sources of drinking water. An analysis of 75,505 compliance reports for 41,381 conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania drilled from January 1, 2000-December 31, 2012, was performed with the objective of determining complete and accurate statistics of casing and cement impairment. Statewide data show a sixfold higher incidence of cement and/or casing issues for shale gas wells relative to conventional wells. The Cox proportional hazards model was used to estimate risk of impairment based on existing data. The model identified both temporal and geographic differences in risk. For post-2009 drilled wells, risk of a cement/casing impairment is 1.57-fold [95% confidence interval (CI) (1.45, 1.67); P < 0.0001] higher in an unconventional gas well relative to a conventional well drilled within the same time period. Temporal differences between well types were also observed and may reflect more thorough inspections and greater emphasis on finding well leaks, more detailed note taking in the available inspection reports, or real changes in rates of structural integrity loss due to rushed development or other unknown factors. Unconventional gas wells in northeastern (NE) Pennsylvania are at a 2.7-fold higher risk relative to the conventional wells in the same area. The predicted cumulative risk for all wells (unconventional and conventional) in the NE region is 8.5-fold [95% CI (7.16, 10.18); P < 0.0001] greater than that of wells drilled in the rest of the state.

Concepts: Hazard ratio, Shale gas, Oil shale, Atmosphere, David Cox, Oil well, Natural gas, Petroleum


The rapid rise of shale gas development through horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing has expanded the extraction of hydrocarbon resources in the U.S. The rise of shale gas development has triggered an intense public debate regarding the potential environmental and human health effects from hydraulic fracturing. This paper provides a critical review of the potential risks that shale gas operations pose to water resources, with an emphasis on case studies mostly from the U.S. Four potential risks for water resources are identified: (1) the contamination of shallow aquifers with fugitive hydrocarbon gases (i.e., stray gas contamination), which can also potentially lead to the salinization of shallow groundwater through leaking natural gas wells and subsurface flow; (2) the contamination of surface water and shallow groundwater from spills, leaks, and/or the disposal of inadequately treated shale gas wastewater; (3) the accumulation of toxic and radioactive elements in soil or stream sediments near disposal or spill sites; and (4) the overextraction of water resources for high-volume hydraulic fracturing that could induce water shortages or conflicts with other water users, particularly in water-scarce areas. Analysis of published data (through January 2014) reveals evidence for stray gas contamination, surface water impacts in areas of intensive shale gas development, and the accumulation of radium isotopes in some disposal and spill sites. The direct contamination of shallow groundwater from hydraulic fracturing fluids and deep formation waters by hydraulic fracturing itself, however, remains controversial.

Concepts: Water resources, Groundwater, Hydrocarbon, Shale gas, Petroleum, Hydrology, Water, Natural gas