In August 2004, a commercial drill rig was destroyed by ignition of an explosive gas released during the drilling of a domestic well in granitic bedrock in Tyngsborough, MA. This accident prompted the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to sample the well water for dissolved methane - a possible explosive fuel. Water samples collected from the Tyngsborough domestic well in 2004 by the MassDEP contained low levels of methane gas (Pierce and others, 2007). When the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sampled this well in 2006, there was no measurable amount of methane remaining in the well water (Pierce and others, 2007). Other deep water wells in nearby south-central New Hampshire have been determined to have high concentrations of naturally occurring methane (David Wunsch, New Hampshire State Geologist, 2004, written commun.). Studying additional wells in New England crystalline bedrock aquifers that produce methane may help to understand the origin of methane in crystalline bedrock.
Domestic well NH-WRW-37 was chosen for this study because it is a relatively deep well completed in crystalline bedrock, it is not affected by known anthropogenic sources of methane, and it had the highest known natural methane concentration (15.5 mg/L, U.S. Geological Survey, 2007) measured in a study described by Robinson and others (2004). This well has been in use since it was drilled in 1997, and it was originally selected for study in 2000 as part of a 30 well network, major-aquifer study by the USGS' New England Coastal Basins (NECB) study unit of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Dissolved methane in drinking water is not considered an ingestion health hazard, although the occurrence in ground water is a concern because, as a gas, its buildup in confined spaces can cause asphyxiation, fire, or explosion hazards (Mathes and White, 2006). Methane occurrence in the fractured crystalline bedrock is not widely reported or well understood.
Borehole-geophysical surveys, bedrock outcrop observations, and water-quality analyses were used to define the geologic and hydrologic characteristics of NH-WRW-37. Collection of additional information on the hydraulic and geologic characteristics of the fractured bedrock and on water quality was initiated in an attempt to understand the setting where methane gas occurs in the bedrock ground water. The origin of dissolved methane in this and other wells in New Hampshire is the subject of ongoing investigations by the State of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Geological Survey and the USGS.