Dissolved methane concentrations in shallow groundwater are known to vary both spatially and temporally. The extent of these variations is poorly documented although this knowledge is critical for distinguishing natural fluctuations from anthropogenic impacts stemming from oil and gas activities. This issue was addressed as part of a groundwater research project aiming to assess the risk of shale gas development for groundwater quality over a 500-km2 area in the St. Lawrence Lowlands (Quebec, Canada). A specific study was carried out to define the natural variability of methane concentrations and carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios in groundwater, as dissolved methane is naturally ubiquitous in aquifers of this area. Monitoring was carried out over a period of up to 2.5 years in seven monitoring wells. Results showed that for a given well, using the same sampling depth and technique, methane concentrations can vary over time from 2.5 to 6 times relative to the lowest recorded value. Methane isotopic composition, which is a useful tool to distinguish gas origin, was found to be stable for most wells, but varied significantly over time in the two wells where methane concentrations are the lowest. The use of concentration ratios, as well as isotopic composition of methane and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), helped unravel the processes responsible for these variations. This study indicates that both methane concentrations and isotopic composition, as well as DIC isotopes, should be regularly monitored over at least 1 year to establish their potential natural variations prior to hydrocarbon development.
Hydrogeology Journal – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 10, 2017
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