Propensity for fugitive gas migration in glaciofluvial deposits: An assessment of near-surface hydrofacies in the Peace Region, Northeastern British Columbia

Tse-Hua Chao, Aaron Cahill, Rachel Lauer, Cole Van De Ven, Roger Beckie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Petroleum resource development has generated a global legacy of millions of active and decommissioned energy wells. Associated with this legacy are concerns about wellbore integrity failure and leakage of fugitive gas into groundwater and atmosphere. The fate of fugitive gas in the shallow subsurface is controlled by sediment heterogeneity, hydrostratigraphy and hydraulic connectivity. We characterized the shallow subsurface at a site in northeastern British Columbia, Canada; a region of extensive petroleum resource development. We collected 13 core profiles, 9 cone-penetrometer profiles, 58 sediment samples and 4 electrical resistivity profiles. At the site, a ~ 12 m thick layer of low-permeability diamict (10 −8 m/s) overlays a more permeable (10 −6 - 10 −4 m/s) but highly heterogeneous sequence of glacigenic sand, clay and silt. We develop a conceptual hydrostratigraphic model for fluid flow in this system in the context of fugitive-gas migration. Driven by buoyancy forces, free-phase gas will move upward through discontinuous permeable zones within the Quaternary sediments, until it encounters lower permeability interbeds where it will pool, flow laterally or become trapped and dissolve into flowing groundwater. The vertical extent of gas migration will be significantly limited by the relatively continuous overlying diamict, a feature common across the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin. However, intra-till lenses observed embedded within the diamict may provide pathways for gas to move vertically towards ground surface and into the atmosphere. This study provides one of the few investigations examining geological and hydrogeological heterogeneity in the shallow subsurface at scales relevant to gas migration. For glaciated regions with similar surficial geology, such as Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, gas that is released into the subsurface from an energy wellbore, below a surface diamict, will likely migrate laterally away from the wellbore, and be inhibited from reaching ground surface and emitting to atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141459
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date3 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2020


  • Fugitive gas
  • Gas migration
  • Heterogeneity
  • Hydrogeology
  • Quaternary sediments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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