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Impact of Shale Gas on Water Quality

Impact of Shale Gas on Water Quality

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Survey of the environmental impacts of shale gas industrialization on water quality
Survey of the environmental impacts of shale gas industrialization on water quality

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Published by: James "Chip" Northrup on Jul 30, 2013
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1
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.
2
Earth and Envi-ronmental Systems Institute and Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.*Corresponding author. E-mail: vidic@pitt.edu
Impact of Shale Gas Developmenton Regional Water Quality
R. D. Vidic,
1
* S. L. Brantley,
2
J. M. Vandenbossche,
1
D. Yoxtheimer,
2
J. D. Abad
1
Background:
Natural gas has recently emerged as a relatively clean energy source that offers theopportunity for a number of regions around the world to reduce their reliance on energy imports.It can also serve as a transition fuel that will allow for the shift from coal to renewable energyresources while helping to reduce the emissions of CO
2
, criteria pollutants, and mercury by the powersector. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing make the extraction of tightly bound natural gasfrom shale formations economically feasible. These technologies are not free from environmentalrisks, however, especially those related to regional water quality, such as gas migration, contaminanttransport through induced and natural fractures, wastewater discharge, and accidental spills. Thefocus of this Review is on the current understanding of these environmental issues.
Advances:
The most common problem with well construction is a faulty seal that is emplaced to pre-vent gas migration into shallow groundwater. The incidence rate of seal problems in unconventionalgas wells is relatively low (1 to 3%), but there is a substantial controversy whether the methanedetected in private groundwater wells in the area where drilling for unconventional gas is ongoingwas caused by well drilling or natural processes. It is difficult to resolve this issue because manyareas have long had sources of methane unrelated to hydraulic fracturing, and pre-drilling baselinedata are often unavailable.Water management for unconventional shale gas extraction is one of the key issues that willdominate environmental debate surrounding the gas industry. Reuse of produced water for hydraulicfracturing is currently addressing the concerns regarding the vast quantities of contaminants thatare brought to the surface. As these well fields mature and the opportunities for wastewater reusediminish, the need to find alternative management strategies for this wastewater will likely intensify.
Outlook:
Improved understanding of the fate and transport of contaminants of concern andincreased long-term monitoring and data dissemination will help effectively manage water-qualityrisks associated with unconventional gas industry today and in the future. Confidentiality require-ments dictated by legal investigations combined with the expedited rate of development and thelimited funding for research are major impediments to peer-reviewed research into environmentalimpacts. Now is the time to work on these environmental issues to avoid an adverse environmentallegacy similar to that from abandoned coal mine discharges in Pennsylvania.
Drilling multiple horizontal wells from a single well pad allows access to as much as 1 square mile ofshale that is located more than a mile below.
[Image courtesy of Range Resources Appalachia]
17 MAY 2013 VOL 340
SCIENCE
www.sciencemag.org
REVIEW
SUMMARY 
826
ARTICLE OUTLINECause of the Shale Gas Development SurgeMethane MigrationHow Protective Is the “Well Armor”?The Source and Fate of Fracturing FluidAppropriate Wastewater ManagementOptionsConclusionsBACKGROUND READING
General overview that includes geology of majorshale plays, description of the extraction process, rel-evant regulations, and environmental considerations:www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/oil-gas/publications/ EPreports/Shale_Gas_Primer_2009.pdfDetailed information about individual shale gaswells, including chemical additives used in eachhydraulic fracturing treatment: http://fracfocus.orgFindings of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencystudy on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturingon drinking water resources: www.epa.gov/hfstudyComprehensive information from the British Geo-logical Survey about shale gas (including articlesand videos): www.bgs.ac.uk/shalegasSite developed in collaboration with the GeologicalSociety of America promoting the rational debateabout energy future: www.switchenergyproject.comLatest news and findings about shale gas.www.shale-gas-information-platform.org
READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINEhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1126/ science.1235009
Cite this article as R. Vidic
et al.
,
 Science
 
340
,1235009 (2013). DOI: 10.1126/science.1235009
Published by AAAS
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Impact of Shale Gas Developmenton Regional Water Quality
R. D. Vidic,
1
*
S. L. Brantley,
2
J. M. Vandenbossche,
1
D. Yoxtheimer,
2
J. D. Abad
1
Unconventional natural gas resources offer an opportunity to access a relatively clean fossil fuel thatcould potentially lead to energy independence for some countries. Horizontal drilling and hydraulicfracturing make the extraction of tightly bound natural gas from shale formations economicallyfeasible. These technologies are not free from environmental risks, however, especially those related toregional water quality, such as gas migration, contaminant transport through induced and naturalfractures, wastewater discharge, and accidental spills. We review the current understanding ofenvironmental issues associated with unconventional gas extraction. Improved understanding of thefate and transport of contaminants of concern and increased long-term monitoring and datadissemination will help manage these water-quality risks today and in the future.
 N
atural gas has recently emerged as an en-ergy source that offers the opportunityforanumberofregionsaroundtheworldto reduce their reliance on energy imports or strive toward energy independence (
1
,
2
). It mayalso be a potential transition fuel that will allowfor the shift from coal to renewable energy re-sources while helping to reduce the emissions of CO
2
,criteriapollutants,andmercurybythepow-er sector (
3
). The driving force behind this shift is that it has become economically feasible toextract unconventional sources of gas that were previously considered inaccessible. Convention-al gas is typically extracted from porous sand-stone and carbonate formations, where it hasgenerally been trapped under impermeable cap-rocksaftermigrationfromitsoriginalsourcerock.In contrast, unconventional gas is usually recov-ered from low-permeability reservoirs or thesource rocks themselves, including coal seams,tight sand formations, and fine-grained, organic-rich shales. Unconventional gas formations arecharacterized by low permeabilities that limit therecovery of the gas and require additional tech-niques to achieve economical flow rates (
2
).The archetypical example of rapidly increas-ing shale gas development is the Marcellus ShaleintheeasternUnitedStates(Fig.1).Intensivegasextraction began there in 2005, and it is one of the top five unconventional gas reservoirs in theUnited States. With a regional extent of 95,000squaremiles,the Marcellus isone of the world
slargestknown shale-gasdeposits.Itextends fromupstate New York, as far south as Virginia, andas far west as Ohio, underlying 70% of the stateofPennsylvaniaandmuchofWestVirginia.Theformation consists of black and dark gray shales,siltstones, and limestones (
4
). On the basis of ageological study of natural fractures in the for-mation,Engelder(
5
)estimateda50%probabilitythat the Marcellus will ultimately yield 489 tril-lion cubic feet of natural gas.Concerns that have been voiced (
) in con-nection with hydraulic fracturing and the devel-opment of unconventional gas resources in theUnited States include land and habitat frag-mentation as well as impacts to air quality, water quantity and quality, and socioeconomic issues(
3
,
5
,
). Although shale gas development is in-creasing across several regions of the UnitedStatesandtheworld(suchastheUnitedKingdom,Poland,Ukraine,Australia,andBrazil),thisreviewfocuses on the potential issues surrounding water quality in the Appalachian region and specificallythe Marcellus Shale, where the majority of pub-lished studies have been conducted. Our Reviewfocuses on chemical aspects of water qualityratherthanissuessurroundingenhancedsediment inputsintowaterways,whichhavebeendiscussedelsewhere (
4
,
,
8
).
Cause of the Shale Gas Development Surge
Recent technological developments in horizontaldrilling and hydraulic fracturing have enabledenhanced recovery of unconventional gas in theUnitedStates,increasing thecontribution ofshalegas to total gas production from negligible levelsin 1990 to 30% in 2011 (
1
). Although the first true horizontal oil well was drilled in 1929, thistechnique only became a standard industry prac-tice in the 1980s (
9
). Whereas a vertical well al-lowsaccess to tens or hundreds of meters acrossa flat-lying formation, a horizontal well can bedrilledtoconformtotheformationandcanthere-foreextractgasfromthousandsofmetersofshale.Horizontal wells reduce surface disturbance bylimiting the number of drilling pads and by en-abling gas extraction from areas where verticalwells are not feasible. However, horizontal drill-ing alone would not have enabled exploitation of the unconventional gas resources because the res-ervoir permeability is not sufficient to achieveeconomicalgasproductionbynaturalflow.Hydrau-lic fracturing
 —“
hydrofracking,
or 
fracking
”— 
was developed in the 1940s to fracture and in-crease permeability of target formations and hassince been improved to match the characteristicsof specific types of reservoirs, including shales.Hydraulic fracturing fluids consist of watethat is mixed with proppants and chemicals be-fore injection into the well under high pressure(480 to 850 bar) in order to open the existingfractures or initiate new fractures. The proppant (commonly sand) represents generally ~9% of the total weight of the fracturing fluid (
) andis required to keep the fractures open once the pumpinghasstopped.Thenumber,type,andcon-centration of chemicals added are governed bythe geological characteristics of each site and thechemical characteristics of the water used. Thefracturing fluid typically used in the MarcellusShale is called slickwater, which means that it doesnotcontainviscositymodifiersthatareoftenadded to hydrofracture other shales so as to fa-cilitate better proppant transport and placement.Chemical additives in the fluids used for hy-draulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale includefriction reducers, scale inhibitors, and biocides(Table 1 and Box 1). Eight U.S. states currentlyrequire that all chemicals that are not considered proprietarymustbepublishedonline(
),where-as many companies are voluntarily disclosing thisinformationinotherstates.However,manyofthechemicals added for fracturing are not currentlyregulated by the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act,raising public concerns about water supply con-tamination.From2005to2009,about750chem-icalsandothercomponentswereusedinhydraulicfracturing, ranging from harmless components,including coffee grounds or walnut hulls, to 29componentsthatmaybehazardousifintroducedinto the water supply (
). An inorganic acid suchas hydrochloric acid is often used to clean thewellbore area after perforation and to dissolve sol-uble minerals in the surrounding formation. Or-ganic polymers or petroleum distillates are addedto reduce friction between the fluid and the well- bore, lowering the pumping costs. Antiscalantsare added to the fracturing fluid so as to limit the precipitation of salts and metals in the formationand inside the well. Besides scaling, bacterialgrowth is a major concern for the productivity of agaswell(quantityandqualityofproducedgas).Glutaraldehyde is the mostcommon antibacterialagentadded,butotherdisinfectants[suchas2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide(DBNPA)orchlo-rine dioxide] are often considered. Surfactants(alcohols such as methanol or isopropanol) mayalso be added to reduce the fluid surface tensionto aid fluid recovery.
Methane Migration
Asinventoriedin2000,morethan40millionU.S.citizens drink water from private wells (
). Insome areas, methane
 — 
the main component of natural gas
 — 
seeps into these private wells fromeither natural or anthropogenic sources.Given itslowsolubility(26mg/Lat1atm,20°C),methane
REVIEW
1
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Uni-versity of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.
2
Earth andEnvironmental Systems Institute and Department of Geosci-ences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA16802, USA.*Corresponding author. E-mail: vidic@pitt.edu
www.sciencemag.org
SCIENCE
VOL 340 17 MAY 2013
1235009-1
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that enters wells as a solute is not considered ahealth hazard with respect to ingestion and isthereforenotregulatedintheUnitedStates.When present, however, methane can be oxidized by bacteria,resultinginoxygendepletion.Lowoxygenconcentrations can result in the increased solubil-ity of elements such as arsenic or iron. In addi-tion,anaerobicbacteriathatproliferateundersuchconditions may reduce sulfate to sulfide, creatingwater- and air-quality issues. When methane de-gasses,itcanalsocreateturbidityand,inextremecases,explode(
13
,
).Therefore,theU.S.Depart-mentoftheInteriorrecommendsawarningifwater contains10mg/LofCH
4
andimmediateactionif concentrations reach 28 mg/L (
). Methane con-centrations above 10 mg/L indicate that accumula-tion of gas could result in an explosion (
).The most common problem with well con-struction is a faulty seal in the annular spacearound casings that is emplaced to prevent gasleakage from a well into aquifers (
). The inci-dence rate of casing and cement problems in un-conventional gas wells in Pennsylvania has beenreported previously as ~1 to 2%(
). Our count in Pennsylvania from 2008 to March 2013 for well construction problems [such as casing or ce-menting incidents (
)] cited by the PennsylvaniaDepartment of Environmental Protection (DEP)revealed 219 notices of violation out of 6466wells (3.4%) (
). Of these, 16 wells in northernPennsylvania were given notices with respect tothe regulation that the
operator shall prevent gasand other fluids from lower formations from en-tering fresh groundwater 
(violation code 78.73A).Most of the time, gas leakage is minor and can be remedied. However, in one case attributed toMarcellus drilling and leaky well casings, straygas that accumulated in a private water well ex- ploded near the northeastern Pennsylvania townof Dimock. A study of 60 groundwater wells inthat area, including across the border in upstate NewYork(
),showedthatboththeaverageandmaximum methane concentrations were higher when sampled from wells within 1 km of activeMarcellus gas wells as compared with those far-ther away. Much discussion has since ensued astowhetherthemethanedetectedinthesewellswascaused by drilling or natural processes (
 – 
) be-causetheareahaslonghadsourcesofboththermo-genicandbiogenicmethaneunrelatedtohydraulicfracturing, and no predrilling baseline data areavailable. The averages reported in that study for sites both near and far from drilling are not dis-similarfromvaluesforgroundwaterfromareasof Pennsylvania and West Virginia sampled by theU.S. Geological Survey (USGS) before the recent Marcellus Shale development began, or samplesin New York state where high-volume hydrofrac-turing is currently banned (Fig. 2).Thereasongasisfoundsoofteninwaterwellsin some areas is because methane not only formsat depth naturally, owing to high-temperaturematuration of organic matter, but also at shallowdepths through bacterial processes (
25
,
). Boththese thermogenic and biogenic gas types canmigrate through faults upward from deep for-mations or laterally from environments such asswamps (swamp gas) or glacial till (drift gas)(
14
,
). In addition, gas can derive from anthro- pogenic sources such as gas storage fields, coalmines,landfills,gaspipelines,andabandonedgaswells (
). In fact, ~350,000 oil and gas wellshave been drilled in Pennsylvania, and the loca-tions of ~100,000 of these are unknown (
).Thus, it is not surprising that gas problems haveoccurredinPennsylvanialongbeforetheMarcellusdevelopment (
). Pennsylvania is not the onlystate facing this problem because about ~60,000documentedorphanedwellsandpotentiallymorethan 90,000 undocumented orphaned wells in theUnitedStates havenotbeen adequatelypluggedand could act as vertical conduits for gas (
).As natural gas moves in the subsurface, it can be partially oxidized, mixed with other gases, or diluted along flow paths. To determine its prov-enance, a
multiple lines of evidence approach
must be pursued (
). For example, researchersmeasure the presence of other hydrocarbons aswell as the isotopic signatures of H, O, and C inthe water orgas (
,
,
).Thermogenic gas ingeneral has more ethane and a higher 
13
C/ 
12
C ratiothanthatofbiogenicgas.Stableisotopesinthermo-genic gas may sometimes even yield clues about which shale was the source of the gas (
24
,
). InnortheasternPennsylvania,researchersarguewhether the isotopic signatures of the methane in drinking-water wells indicate the gas derived from theMarcellus or from shallower formations (
20
,
).Although determining the origin of gas in wa-ter wells may lead to solutions for this problem,the source does not affect liability because gascompanies are responsible if it can be shown that any gas
 — 
not just methane
 — 
has moved into awater well because of shale-gas development activity. For example, drilling can open surficialfractures that allow preexisting native gas to leak into water wells (
). This means that pre- and post-drilling gas concentration data are needed todetermine culpability. Only one published studycompares pre- and post-drilling water chemistryin the Marcellus Shale drilling area. In that study, a
WatershedsProduction rate(MMCF/D)
Allegheny<0.10.1 – 1.001.01 – 5.005.01 – 10.0010.01 – 20.00>20NonproducingCentralized waste treatment plantsDelawareErieGeneseeMonongahelaOhioPotomacSusquehanna050100NSWE200
km
Fig. 1. Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania.
Rapid development of Marcellus Shale since 2005resulted in more than 12,000 well permits, with more than 6000 wells drilled and ~3500 producing gasthrough December 2012 (average daily production ranged from <0.1 to >20 million cubic feet/day(MMCF/D). Current locations of centralized wastewater treatment facilities (CWTs) are distributed tofacilitate treatment and reuse of flowback and produced water for hydraulic fracturing.
17 MAY 2013 VOL 340
SCIENCE
www.sciencemag.org
1235009-2
REVIEW
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