Methane in groundwater from a leaking gas well, Piceance Basin, Colorado, USA

Science of the Total Environment
By: , and 



Site-specific and regional analysis of time-series hydrologic and geochemical data collected from 15 monitoring wells in the Piceance Basin indicated that a leaking gas well contaminated shallow groundwater with thermogenic methane. The gas well was drilled in 1956 and plugged and abandoned in 1990. Chemical and isotopic data showed the thermogenic methane was not from mixing of gas-rich formation water with shallow groundwater or natural migration of a free-gas phase. Water-level and methane-isotopic data, and video logs from a deep monitoring well, indicated that a shale confining layer ~125 m below the zone of contamination was an effective barrier to upward migration of water and gas. The gas well, located 27 m from the contaminated monitoring well, had ~1000 m of uncemented annular space behind production casing that was the likely pathway through which deep gas migrated into the shallow aquifer. Measurements of soil gas near the gas well showed no evidence of methane emissions from the soil to the atmosphere even though methane concentrations in shallow groundwater (16 to 20 mg/L) were above air-saturation levels. Methane degassing from the water table was likely oxidized in the relatively thick unsaturated zone (~18 m), thus rendering the leak undetectable at land surface. Drilling and plugging records for oil and gas wells in Colorado and proxies for depth to groundwater indicated thousands of oil and gas wells were drilled and plugged in the same timeframe as the implicated gas well, and the majority of those wells were in areas with relatively large depths to groundwater. This study represents one of the few detailed subsurface investigations of methane leakage from a plugged and abandoned gas well. As such, it could provide a useful template for prioritizing and assessing potentially leaking wells, particularly in cases where the leakage does not manifest itself at land surface.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Methane in groundwater from a leaking gas well, Piceance Basin, Colorado, USA
Series title Science of the Total Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.371
Volume 634
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Colorado Water Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 791
Last page 801
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Piceance Basin
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