Geochemistry and age of groundwater in the Williston Basin, USA: Assessing potential effects of shale-oil production on groundwater quality

Applied Geochemistry
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Abstract

Thirty water wells were sampled in 2018 to understand the geochemistry and age of groundwater in the Williston Basin and assess potential effects of shale-oil production from the Three Forks-Bakken petroleum system (TBPS) on groundwater quality. Two geochemical groups are identified using hierarchical cluster analysis. Group 1 represents the younger (median 4He = 21.49 × 10−8 cm3 STP/g), less chemically evolved water. Group 2 represents the older (median 4He = 1389 × 10−8 cm3 STP/g), more chemically evolved water. At least two samples from each group contain elevated Cl concentrations (>70 mg/L). Br/Cl, B/Cl, and Li/Cl ratios indicate multiple sources account for the elevated Cl concentrations: septic-system leachate/road deicing salt, lignite beds in the aquifers, Pierre Shale beneath the aquifers, and water associated with the TBPS (one sample). 3H and 14C data indicate that 10.8, 21.6, and 67.6% of the samples are modern (post-1952), mixed age, and premodern (pre-1953), respectively. Lumped-parameter modeling of 3H, SF6, 3He, and 14C concentrations indicates mean ages of the modern and premodern fractions range from ~1 to 30 years and 1300 to >30,000 years, respectively. Group 2 contains the highest CH4 concentrations (0.0018–32 mg/L). δ13C–CH4 and C1/C2+C3 data in groundwater (−91.7 to −70.0‰ and 1280 to 13,600) indicate groundwater CH4 is biogenic in origin and not from thermogenic shale gas. Four volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in two samples. One mixed-age sample contains chloroform (0.25 μg/L) and dichloromethane (0.05 μg/L), which are probably associated with septic leachate. One premodern sample contains butane (0.082 μg/L) and n-pentane (0.032 μg/L), which are probably associated with thermogenic gas from a nearby oil well. The data indicate hydrocarbon production activities do not currently (2018) widely affect Cl, CH4, and VOC concentrations in groundwater. The predominance of premodern recharge in the aquifers indicates the groundwater moves relatively slowly, which could inhibit widespread chemical movement in groundwater overlying the TBPS. Comparison of groundwater-age data from five major unconventional hydrocarbon-production areas indicates aquifer zones used for water supply in the TBPS area have a lower risk of widespread chemical movement in groundwater than similar aquifer zones in the Fayetteville (Arkansas) and Marcellus (Pennsylvania) Shale production areas, but have a higher risk than similar aquifer zones in the Eagle Ford (Texas) and Haynesville (Texas, Louisiana) Shale production areas.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geochemistry and age of groundwater in the Williston Basin, USA: Assessing potential effects of shale-oil production on groundwater quality
Series title Applied Geochemistry
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2020.104833
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center, Colorado Water Science Center
Description 104833, 16 p.
Country United States
State Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota
Other Geospatial Williston Basin
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