Mobility and persistence of methane in groundwater in a controlled-release field experiment

Aaron G. Cahill, Colby M. Steelman, Olenka Forde, Olukayode Kuloyo, S. Emil Ruff, Bernhard Mayer, K. Ulrich Mayer, Marc Strous, M. Cathryn Ryan, John A. Cherry, Beth L. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Expansion of shale gas extraction has fuelled global concern about the potential impact of fugitive methane on groundwater and climate. Although methane leakage from wells is well documented, the consequences on groundwater remain sparsely studied and are thought by some to be minor. Here we present the results of a 72-day methane gas injection experiment into a shallow, flat-lying sand aquifer. In our experiment, although a significant fraction of methane vented to the atmosphere, an equal portion remained in the groundwater. We find that methane migration in the aquifer was governed by subtle grain-scale bedding that impeded buoyant free-phase gas flow and led to episodic releases of free-phase gas. The result was lateral migration of gas beyond that expected by groundwater advection alone. Methane persisted in the groundwater zone despite active growth of methanotrophic bacteria, although much of the methane that vented into the vadose zone was oxidized. Our findings demonstrate that even small-volume releases of methane gas can cause extensive and persistent free phase and solute plumes emanating from leaks that are detectable only by contaminant hydrogeology monitoring at high resolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-294
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Volume10
Issue number4
Early online date27 Mar 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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    Cahill, A. G., Steelman, C. M., Forde, O., Kuloyo, O., Emil Ruff, S., Mayer, B., Ulrich Mayer, K., Strous, M., Cathryn Ryan, M., Cherry, J. A., & Parker, B. L. (2017). Mobility and persistence of methane in groundwater in a controlled-release field experiment. Nature Geoscience, 10(4), 289-294. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2919